While Twitter and Facebook continue to dominate the social media networking platform, it cannot be denied that both have committed the so-called reputational suicide. Over the past few months, people have learned what these sites can do to an individual’s privacy. Well, the same thing can be said for Google, the search engine giant that continues to play the “we are not tracking your location” game. According to Associated Press, several findings further prove that Google indeed tracks user location.
The Associated Press has been trying to investigate the search engine company about its location-tracking feature. The results, however, is contrary to what the company originally states. It turns out that the said feature tracks user location, even if it is shut off in the Location History setting.
The setting, for the sake of explanation, is what Google advises to do if a user wants to stop the feature from tracking locations. In fact, as per its Manage or Delete Your Location History page, one can “turn off Location History at any time.” So, in a sense, if a user turns off the Location History, the places he/she goes should no longer be saved and stored. That is supposedly how things should work.
But according to the aforementioned findings, it is not exactly true. Despite users pausing the Location History, a number of Google apps will still save time-stamped location information. And it does in a way that no permission is asked from the user. AP suggests that turning off the feature is possible, but it is quite laborious. It simply contradicts what Google originally said.
So, how does it work really? For instance, Google saves a snapshot of a user’s location when he/she opens the Map app. The automatic daily weather updates, which can be found on every Android phone, determine where a user’s exact location is.
What is even surprising here is that most, if not all, searches have nothing do with location. For example, a user searches the phrase “chocolate chip cookies” or “ultimate survival kit.” These searches seem to be designed in a way that they can pinpoint a user’s location. Meaning, it captures the exact latitude and longitude. It is even said to be so accurate that it can detail up to the square foot. From there, the data is immediately saved onto the user’s Google account. The report from AP also mentioned that Princeton’s computer-science researchers found similar findings, further confirming the then-rumored process.
The press reportedly tried to contact Google prior to the release of the report. It pointed out that, in one way or another, a user’s location can be tracked in various ways. It could be that Google’s Location Pause is not working and is not enough to prevent the location of a user from being tracked. Or, it could be that the search engine giant is simply lying.
A spokesperson from Google released a statement, saying the company has created “powerful data controls.” This is believed to include the likes of Location History, on-device settings, and Web and App activity. The statement, however, insists that users can always “turn on or off at any time.” Still, this does not necessarily address the issue directly.
The catch here is that it directly affects anyone who uses Google’s service, regardless of what device is used. A scenario of how this issue can affect every user is epitomized by FBI’s pestering of Google in March. Basically, the government agency pressured the search engine company – through a warrant – to track all users within a certain vicinity. It was none other than the nine-robbery string happening in Portland, Oregon.
FBI’s request reportedly includes all individuals who use Google’s Tools – be it on Android or iPhone – and not just the suspect. What is even worse here is that the agency requested a lot of personal information, such as addresses and full names.
It is definitely scary to think how this “tracking issue” can further affect users. But only time can tell, and it is definitely near.