Turning off location history doesn't stop Google from storing where you've been — here's how to limit the info it logs 

Key Points
  • Contrary to what a user might reasonably assume, pausing "Location History" on a Google account doesn't actually stop it from storing time-stamped location data.
  • Privacy-conscious users should pause the "web and app activity" setting too.
Here's what it looks like when you let Google store your location history. Even if you pause this setting though, the company will still store information about your your physical whereabouts.

Do you think you've stopped Google from storing information about your physical whereabouts? You might want to double-check.

Contrary to what a user might reasonably assume, pausing "Location History" tracking on a Google account doesn't actually stop the search giant from storing time-stamped location data, as revealed by The Associated Press.

Google makes it very easy to pause your location history, which saves information about where you go, through its Activity Controls page. If you pause location history, Google says that "the places you go are no longer stored."

That message is misleading, however.

Unless you turn off "web & app activity" tracking as well, Google will still store precise, time-stamped location data.

For example, even after I paused my Location History, Google still logged my latitude and longitude information when I searched for something:

Even if a user turned off their location history, information stored through those location markers could still paint a clear picture about their physical whereabouts over time. For example, clicking on that location marker opened up a Google Maps display that showed exactly where I was when I made that search query.

While Google's Location History is turned off by default, the web and app activity tracking is turned on by default. Without checking their "my activity" page, a user might never know that Google apps and websites are storing their location information.

To retroactively delete all the location data stored on you, you will either need to delete each individual item that includes a location marker (the map pin icon in the picture above) or delete all your history.

When asked why Google doesn't make it clearer that pausing location history doesn't stop location information from being stored, the company sent a statement pointing out that its message to users says that "some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other Google services, like Search and Maps."

However, that message doesn't give any indication on how to turn off that additional location logging, which seems like an obvious privacy oversight.

Google uses location history to let advertisers track whether their ads drove people to their stores and to let advertisers target people in narrow geographic areas. It also powers Maps features such as "Popular Times," which can tell users how busy a restaurant or store usually is at a given time.

Turning off location and web and app activity tracking will make products such as Maps and Google's smart assistant less personalized, but for the privacy conscious, the decreased convenience may be worth it. (Here are other ways to stop Google from tracking your online activity.)

To turn off location history on a device level too, go into "Settings" on your phone, and look for "privacy" and "location services" categories.

Even if you do that, you won't be off the map completely: Any phone connected to a cellular network or Wi-Fi will still transmit your general location to your carrier.

Don't really see EU's argument over Google anti-competitive behavior, says NYT's Jim Stewart
Don't really see EU's argument over Google anti-competitive behavior, says NYT's Jim Stewart