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.
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."
Alan Butler, EPICGoogle 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, as WIRED and 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.
'This really reads like a classic case of an unfairly deceptive business practice. I really think that the FTC needs to investigate right away.'