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Google Is Tracking You, but There Are Ways to Try to Stop It

Your location and data history are stored when using any Google app. Here's how to turn those settings off.

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Where you go, Google knows. Here's how to stop it from knowing where you are all the time. 
Getty Images

Using any of Google's apps on your iPhone or Android phone, means you're likely being tracked. Although turning off your Google account's location history is a good place to start, you may not be in the clear yet. Some Google apps could still be storing your location data, and simply opening the Google Maps app or using Google search on any platform logs your approximate location with a time stamp. 

In a January lawsuits against the giant search engine company, Google has been sued by several states due to its use of location data. They allege Google makes it "nearly impossible" for people to prevent their location from being tracked. 

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After a 2018 investigation by the Associated Press, Google added features to make it easier to control what location and other data is saved, and what is deleted with features like Your Data in Maps and Search, which give you quick access to your location controls. However, DC Attorney General Karl Racine said, "Google falsely led consumers to believe that changing their account and device settings would allow customers to protect their privacy and control what personal data the company could access." Google has since defended itself.

We'll tell you how to turn off Google tracking, and what the outcomes of doing so might be. We'll update this story as more news develops.

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Turn off Google's location tracking 

To completely shut down Google's ability to log your location, here's what you can do:

1. Open Google.com on your desktop or mobile browser, and log into your Google account by using the button in the top right corner.

2. Click your user icon in the top right corner and select Manage your Google account.

3. Click Privacy & personalization.

4. Click Things you've done and places you've been.

5. Click Location history inside the History settings box. This opens Activity Controls.

6. Beneath Location History, click the button on the right that reads Turn off. This opens a pop-up window.

7. Scroll to the bottom of this window and click Pause.

Turning off location history only removes where you've been from the Google Maps Timeline feature, which logs your location with certain data at a specific time. Google's support page on the matter says that even when turned off, "some location data may continue to be saved in other settings," like your web and app activity. Google told us that it uses this data to make features more personalized and helpful, and that this information is never shared with third parties or advertisers. But if you still aren't comfortable with that, with a few more steps, you can generally stop Google from knowing where you are 24/7. 

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Stop Google from storing your locations from Maps.

Angela Lang/CNET

What does this stop Google from storing? 

Pausing this setting prevents Google from storing location markers associated with specific actions and stops storing information collected from searches or other activity. Turning it off keeps your approximate location private and other places you go -- like your home address. 

Note that to use certain features effectively, like the Maps app, Google will still need to access your location. However, completing the steps above prevents it from storing any future activity. When Google timestamps your activity within a general area, it is within a span of more than 1 square mile with typically more than 1,000 users to protect personal privacy. Google's help page on the matter says this helps them to detect unusual activity, such as a sign-in from another city, while maintaining personal privacy. 

However, you can grant Google permission to use your precise location -- your exact location, like a specific address -- for the best search results for where you are. 

Pros and cons of turning off Google tracking 

Turning off this default setting does have some drawbacks. While Google's settings may seem intrusive to some, they also help cultivate an ultrapersonalized online experience, such as helping people find nearby businesses instead of ones in another city, or seeing personalized ads. They help give users more relevant information instead of random information, according to Google. 

Turning off tracking means you'll see less relevant ads, less helpful search recommendations and overall get a less personalized experience using the search engine and its apps and services. For those who enjoy personalized ads, turning off tracking will prevent Google from predicting what you might care about. However, for those who prioritize privacy over everything, turning this setting off may be worth the loss of specificity. 

The bottom line: You can maintain your privacy and lose the personalized internet experience, or continue to see relevant ads and search suggestions instead of more random, unfiltered information. 

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Delete old location history  

Disabling tracking will prevent Google from storing new location information, but it doesn't delete any prior data gathered. Here's how to delete that information:

1. Open Google.com on your desktop or mobile browser, and log into your Google account by using the button in the top right corner.

2. After logging in, click your user icon in the top right corner and select Manage your Google account.

3. Click Privacy & personalization.

4. Click Things you've done and places you've been.

5. Click Location history inside the History settings box. This opens Activity Controls.

6. Click Manage history near the bottom of the page. This opens a map with a timeline in the top left corner. The map shows where you've been and the timeline shows where you were at what time.

7. To delete your location for a certain date, click the date in the timeline. That date will then be displayed below the timeline. Click the trash icon to the right of the date. In the pop-up window, click Delete day.

8. To delete all your location history at once, click the trash icon near the bottom right corner of the map. In the pop-up window, click the box that reads I understand and want to delete all Location History. Click Delete location history.

Stop Google from collecting your web and app activity

When you make a new Google account, Google minimizes the amount of data it collects by only keeping 18 months' worth of web and app activity by default -- anything older than that is deleted automatically. Here's how to stop Google from collecting your future web and app activity:

1. Open Google.com on your desktop or mobile browser, and log into your Google account by using the button in the top right corner.

2. After logging in, click your user icon in the top right corner and select Manage your Google account.

3. Click Privacy & personalization.

4. Click Things you've done and places you've been.

5. Click Web & App Activity inside the History settings box. This opens Activity Controls.

6. Click Turn off underneath Web & App Activity.

7. In the pop-up window click Pause.

8. Click Got it.

Delete all your Google web and app activity

If you've stopped Google from collecting your web and app activity, Google still has your data from before. Here's how to delete your previous web and app activity:

1. Open Google.com on your desktop or mobile browser, and log into your Google account by using the button in the top right corner.

2. After logging in, click your user icon in the top right corner and select Manage your Google account.

3. Click Privacy & personalization.

4. Click Things you've done and places you've been.

5. Click Web & App Activity inside the History settings box. This opens Activity Controls.

6. Click Manage all Web & App Activity near the bottom of the screen.

7. Under Search your activity, click Delete on the right.

8. The new window will display the options to delete your Web & App Activity from the Last hour, Last day, All time or a Custom range. Select All time.

9. A new window will open and ask you to choose which services to delete activity from. Select all is automatically selected, but you can go through and pick and choose which apps or services to delete information from. Click Next when you are happy with your selection.

10. A pop-up window opens which reads Confirm you would like to delete the following activity near the top. Click 
the Delete near the bottom.

11. Click Got it. 

For more, check out how to see if Google is tracking you, how much data Google collects, and how to hide where you're going from Maps. You can also automatically delete your Google history.