Google’s behind you! How to stop the tech giant following you

15th August 2018

“Google’s behind you!” “Oh no, it isn’t.” “Oh yes, it is.” “Oh no, it isn’t, I turned off Location History.” “Oh yes, it is, it’s been following you all along.”

Earlier this month, bigblu flagged up the privacy and data dangers of easily crackable and hackable password security, this week we turn your attention to Google and what it knows about when you’ve been where you’ve been – and then we show you what you can do about it.

If you’ve never heard of, let alone turned off your Location History in your Google account or phone’s privacy settings, then read on to find out why it’s something you may want to seriously consider. And if you have turned off your Location History, a report this week has uncovered that the toggle-to-off Tab was barely worth the screen it was shown on.

Your decision should balance your own privacy concerns with the convenience afforded by location services

Even if you’ve turned off your Location History, Google Location services uses things like your Wi-Fi usage, GPS, Bluetooth and mobile signal towers to work out where you are. It combines these in the background to build up a remarkably accurate picture of your movements without you ever expressly using services such as Google Maps.

Whatever the on or off status of your Location History, Google will store a snapshot of where you are at the point you open its Maps app. Google will also location stamp your searches with mind-blowing precision and save it to your Google account. If you have an Android phone, the weather updates that you receive will pinpoint your rough location.

Location History advantages
As with many things when it comes to the Internet, your decision should balance your own privacy concerns with the convenience afforded by location services. There are advantages to leaving your Location History turned on, including:

  • Google’s virtual assistant (Google Assistant) uses your location to suggest when to leave for an appointment, based on your location and the traffic around you;
  • Google will give you more relevant recommendations for search results as well as weather information for your location;
  • If you lose your phone, Android Device Manager or Apple’s Find My iPhone app can find, lock and wipe your phone remotely; and
  • Google Maps will remember previous searches and make travel recommendations based on those searches and your location.

If you want to see Google’s Location services in action then click on this link from either your phone or your computer, log in to your account and retrace your steps.

Now that you have a better idea of what Google knows about when and where you’ve been, if you’ve decided that privacy wins out over convenience then you just need to follow these steps to take back control of your movements.

To tell Google to stop following you (applies to any device)

  • Start your Internet browser and go to myactivity.google.com;
  • Sign into your Google account if you haven’t already;
  • On the upper left drop-down menu, go to “Activity Controls”;
  • Turn off both “Web & App Activity” and “Location History.”

That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account. Google will warn you that some of its services won’t work as well with these settings off. In particular, neither the Google Assistant, a digital concierge, nor the Google Home smart speaker will be particularly useful.

If you use an iPhone and Google Maps

Adjust your location setting to “While Using” the app, this will prevent the app from accessing your location when you’re not using it. Go to Settings – Privacy – Location Services and from there select Google Maps to make the adjustment.

You can turn Location Services off almost completely from Settings – Privacy – Location Services. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps will still work, but they won’t know where you are on the map and won’t be able to give you directions.

If you use and Android phone

Under the main settings icon click on “Security & location.” Scroll down to the “Privacy” heading. Tap “Location.” You can toggle it off completely for your phone.

Use “App-level permissions” to turn off access to various apps. Unlike the iPhone, there is no setting for “While Using.” You cannot turn off Google Play services, which supplies your location to other apps if you leave that service on.

To tell Google to forget where it followed you (applies to any device)

  • On the page google.com , look for any entry that has a location pin icon beside the word ‘Details’;
  • Click ‘Details’ and up pops a window with a link that sometimes says “From your current location.”
  • Click on that link to open Google Maps, which will display your location history;
  • Delete it from this pop-up by clicking on the navigation icon with the three stacked dots and then “Delete.”

Some items will be grouped in unexpected places, such as topic names, google.co.uk, 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.

Now, when you hear the cry, “Google’s behind you”, you can confidently reply, “oh, no it isn’t.”