Google has acknowledged that it still tracks users who disable Location Tracking, after an investigation from The Associated Press. It’s not the first time the company has slammed into privacy problems related to its phones — in November 2017, the company acknowledged it tracked cell phones that didn’t have a SIM card installed by checking the address of local cell tower masts. Turning phones off and enabling all of Android’s privacy features did nothing to stop the problem, but Google promised to cease such behavior forthwith.
Nine months later, here we are. This exact cause may be different, but the issue is the same. Google rolls out features it claims will respect or enhance the end user’s privacy. End users believe it. Then, at some later point, we discover it’s not true. And Google’s response to the AP’s investigation has been to simply reword the text. First, here’s the original, courtesy of Waybackmachine.
The new text now reads: “You can turn off Location History at the account level at any time. This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.” (italics added).
Can this additional information also be deleted? Yes — but not easily. The AP has written a guide on deleting the data Google collects on you. There’s no option to tell Android to only allow applications to access location data while you’re using them, unlike iOS, which offers that alternative. You can control which applications have access to your data, but not when they access it. If you want to delete past location tracking, the AP notes that “Some items will be grouped in unexpected places, such as topic names, google.com, Search, or Maps. You have to delete them item by item. You can wholesale delete all items in date ranges or by service, but will end up taking out more than just location markers.”
In other words: You can delete this data, technically, but only if you’re willing to jump through hoops to do so. You can’t choose to simply have it not collected. The reason you can’t choose to do this is that Google has a vested interest in making your life as difficult as possible in this regard. Your privacy is contraindicated by Google’s business model. And so long as that’s true, we can expect these situations to repeat again and again forever.
It’s not unique to Google. It’s a problem for all social media and it exists in no small part because we gave businesses free rein to sell personal information as a means of generating revenue in the first place. That’s a problem that predates the internet, but like a lot of issues, the internet has found ways to make it 1,000 times worse.
Cue the merry-go-round. Let’s all take another spin.