Google could find itself in the middle of another data scandal after a new report accused the search engine of tracking people’s movements even when they had opted out. An investigation by the Associated Press found that a lot of Google services on Android and on the iPhone still store location data even when users had explicitly told the company not to do so. The findings were also confirmed by a Computer Science researcher at Princeton University.
As part of the privacy settings, Google asks your permission to track your location data. Even when you’re using an app like Google Maps to navigate through places, you will get an explicit request from the app asking you to give access. If you give access, the app will store all your location data and display it in a “timeline.” This will include all the places you have visited.
But there’s an issue to this. An app that stores all your travels by the minute has its risks. In the past, this data has been used by the police to determine the location of suspects. Based on these risks, Google gives you the option to opt out from the location tracking. Once you opt out, Google says that the apps will no longer track your movements and won’t remember any location data that they had recorded before. However, it turns out this is not true.
Even when your location history is turned off, there are still some apps that store time-stamped location data without your consent. For example, Google will take and store a snapshot of where you are when you open the Google Maps app. It doesn’t matter whether the location history is turned off, the data will be captured. In addition to this, if you have a weather app on your phone, this app will also pinpoint your location and store that data. Even when you make simple searches online, the company will still access your location. For example, searching “chocolate cookies” allows Google to access and store your exact location every time you search.
The report by the AP says that the privacy issue has affected over 2 billion people using devices with the Android OS. Millions of iPhone owners who rely on the Google Map app have also been affected. Google released a response to the report saying that there are a number of ways the company uses location data to improve the user experience. The search engine giant added that things like location history, app activity, and web searches may be used to access location information.
Despite this, Google maintains that this information is exclusively used to improve user experience. Huge tech companies in Silicon Valley have come under heavy scrutiny after a series of privacy scandals over the last few months. The EU, in particular, has been implementing strict privacy rules but the US hasn’t done anything so far. Many analysts thought that the Cambridge Analytica scandal that hit Facebook a few months ago would be an open invitation for the regulation of tech companies but so far nothing concrete has been discussed.