Google tracks your location, even when you tell........?? - Technopediasite

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Google tracks your location, even when you tell........??

Posted By: technopediasite

Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you've used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.

Google wants to know where you go so badly that it records your movements even when you explicitly tell it not to. An Associated Press investigation found that many Google services on Android devices and iPhones store your location data even if you’ve used a privacy setting that says it will prevent Google from doing so.

Computer-science researchers at Princeton confirmed these findings at the AP‘s request.

For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company lets you “pause” a setting called Location History.

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking. (It’s possible, although laborious, to delete it .)

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.

The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

Storing location data in violation of a user’s preferences is wrong, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. A researcher from Mayer’s lab confirmed the AP’s findings on multiple Android devices; the AP conducted its own tests on several iPhones that found the same behavior.

“If you’re going to allow users to turn off something called ‘Location History,’ then all the places where you maintain location history should be turned off,” Mayer said. “That seems like a pretty straightforward position to have.”

Google says it is being perfectly clear.
“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including: Location History, Web and App Activity, and through device-level Location Services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. “We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time.”

Google’s explanation did not convince several lawmakers.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told the AP it is “frustratingly common” for technology companies “to have corporate practices that diverge wildly from the totally reasonable expectations of their users,” and urged policies that would give users more control of their data. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey called for “comprehensive consumer privacy and data security legislation” in the wake of the AP report.

To stop Google from saving these location markers, the company says, users can turn off another setting, one that does not specifically reference location information. Called “Web and App Activity” and enabled by default, that setting stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites to your Google account.

When paused, it will prevent activity on any device from being saved to your account. But leaving “Web & App Activity” on and turning “Location History” off only prevents Google from adding your movements to the “timeline,” its visualization of your daily travels. It does not stop Google’s collection of other location markers.

You can delete these location markers by hand, but it’s a painstaking process since you have to select them individually, unless you want to delete all of your stored activity.

You can see the stored location markers on a page in your Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they’re typically scattered under several different headers, many of which are unrelated to location.

To demonstrate how powerful these other markers can be, the AP created a visual map of the movements of Princeton postdoctoral researcher Gunes Acar, who carried an Android phone with Location history off, and shared a record of his Google account.

The map includes Acar’s train commute on two trips to New York and visits to The High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem. To protect his privacy, The AP didn’t plot the most telling and frequent marker — his home address.

Huge tech companies are under increasing scrutiny over their data practices, following a series of privacy scandals at Facebook and new data-privacy rules recently adopted by the European Union. Last year, the business news site Quartz found that Google was tracking Android users by collecting the addresses of nearby cellphone towers even if all location services were off. Google changed the practice and insisted it never recorded the data anyway.

Critics say Google’s insistence on tracking its users’ locations stems from its drive to boost advertising revenue.

“They build advertising information out of data,” said Peter Lenz, the senior geospatial analyst at Dstillery, a rival advertising technology company. “More data for them presumably means more profit.”

The AP learned of the issue from K. Shankari, a graduate researcher at UC Berkeley who studies the commuting patterns of volunteers in order to help urban planners. She noticed that her Android phone prompted her to rate a shopping trip to Kohl’s, even though she had turned Location History off.

“So how did Google Maps know where I was?”
Google offers a more accurate description of how Location History actually works in a place you’d only see if you turn it off — a popup that appears when you “pause” Location History on your Google account webpage . There the company notes that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps.”

Google offers additional information in a popup that appears if you re-activate the “Web & App Activity” setting — an uncommon action for many users, since this setting is on by default. That popup states that, when active, the setting “saves the things you do on Google sites, apps, and services … and associated information, like location.”

Warnings when you’re about to turn Location History off via Android and iPhone device settings are more difficult to interpret. On Android, the popup explains that “places you go with your devices will stop being added to your Location History map.” On the iPhone, it simply reads, “None of your Google apps will be able to store location data in Location History.”

The iPhone text is technically true if potentially misleading. With Location History off, Google Maps and other apps store your whereabouts in a section of your account called “My Activity,” not “Location History.”Since 2014, Google has let advertisers track the effectiveness of online ads at driving foot traffic , a feature that Google has said relies on user location histories.



The company is pushing further into such location-aware tracking to drive ad revenue, which rose 20 percent last year to $95.4 billion. At a Google Marketing Live summit in July, Google executives unveiled a new tool called “local campaigns” that dynamically uses ads to boost in-person store visits. It says it can measure how well a campaign drove foot traffic with data pulled from Google users’ location histories.

Google also says location records stored in My Activity are used to target ads. Ad buyers can target ads to specific locations — say, a mile radius around a particular landmark — and typically have to pay more to reach this narrower audience.

While disabling “Web & App Activity” will stop Google from storing location markers, it also prevents Google from storing information generated by searches and other activity. That can limit the effectiveness of the Google Assistant, the company’s digital concierge.

Sean O’Brien, a Yale Privacy Lab researcher with whom the AP shared its findings, said it is “disingenuous” for Google to continuously record these locations even when users disable Location History. “To me, it’s something people should know,” he said.

HOW TO STOP IT
You thought Google stopped tracking your location once you turned off Location History in your account settings, you were wrong. According to an AP investigation published Monday, even if you disable Location History, the search giant still tracks you every time you open Google Maps, get certain automatic weather updates, or search for things in your browser. There's a way to stop it—but it takes some digging.

The problem affects anyone with an Android phone and iPhone users running Google Maps on their devices, according to the AP report, which researchers at Princeton University verified. That's more than two billion people.

The Google support page for managing and deleting your Location History says that once you turn it off, "the places you go are no longer stored. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it's off for all devices associated with that Google Account." The AP's investigation found that's not true. In fact, turning off your Location History only stops Google from creating a timeline of your location that you can view. Some apps will still track you and store time-stamped location data from your devices.

More specifically, the AP was able to track Princeton researcher Gunes Acar's home address, as well as his daily activities, using just Google Web & App activity, which he had shared with the news agency.

"If Google is representing to its users that they can turn off or pause location tracking but it's nevertheless tracking their location, that seems like textbook deception to me," says Alan Butler, senior council at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

To actually turn off location tracking, Google says you have to navigate to a setting buried deep in your Google Account called Web & App Activity, which is set by default to share your information, including not just location but IP address and more. Finding that setting isn't easy. At all.

Sign in to your Google account on a browser on iOS or your desktop, or through the Android settings menu. In the browser, access your account settings by finding Google Account in the dropdown in the upper right-hand corner, then head to Personal Info & Privacy, choose Go to My Activity, then in the left-hand nav click Activity Controls. Once there you'll see the setting called Web & App Activity, which you can toggle off.

On your Android phone, go from Google settings to Google Account, then tap on Data & personalization. You'll find Web & App Activity there.

Google further buries the notion that Web & App Activity has anything to do with location. In fact, the setting sits right above the Location History option, suggesting at a glance that the two things are quite distinct. And Google's vanilla description of Web & App Activity is that it "Saves your activity on Google sites and apps to give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services." From there, you have to tap Learn more, then scroll to What's saved as Web & App Activity, and tap again on Info about your searches & more before Google says anything about location whatsoever.

To stop that tracking, toggle the blue Web & App Activity slider to off. Google will then give you a popup warning: "Pausing Web & App Activity may limit or disable more personalized experiences across Google services. For example, you may stop seeing more relevant search results or recommendations about places you care about. Even when this setting is paused, Google may temporarily use information from recent searches in order to improve the quality of the active search session."

Google told the AP that it provides "clear descriptions of these tools," but it takes eight taps on an Android phone—if you know exactly where you're going—to even access that description to begin with. As the AP notes, most people who explicitly turned off their Location History tracking.

Many other privacy conscious publications have advised people to do, would have assumed they had already taken all steps necessary to keep their location private.

As well they should. Google itself offers at least three support pages on location: Manage or delete your Location History, Turn location on or off for your Android device, and Manage location settings for Android apps. None of these makes any mention of Web & App Activity.

"we make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions." This apparently refers to a warning that appears if you turn off Location History, which says that it "does not affect other location services on your device." However, nowhere in that popup does it indicate that you can turn off other forms of location tracking by pausing Web & App Activity.

"Tracking people without their consent and without proper controls in place is creepy and wrong," wrote UC Berkeley graduate researcher K. Shankari in a blog post that first alerted the AP to the problem.



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