Google's location history on Android tracks much more than you think, testing shows

Google, it seems, always tracks you a bit more than you think, and has often gotten in hot water about privacy concerns, especially on Android phones. The latest installment is that saga is its opt-in Location History tracking - you know, the one that the initial setup of Google Maps, Assistant, or Search apps are prompting you to turn on for better service. If enabled, however, it seemingly collects much more than your whereabouts in a historical timeline under the menu in Google Maps. 

Quartz testers gathered a Galaxy S8, Google Pixel 2, and Moto Z Droid with various Android update versions, and hooked them to a portable Wi-fi network that can register everything they broadcast to it. There were no SIM cards in the phones, and only Location History transmissions were taken into account. The network requests by the option were recorded by traveling around with the whole setup in shops, restaurants, during urban commute, and so on.

It turned out that the Location History-related transmissions to Google's servers involved much more than one would think, and Quartz made this laundry list of everything that got sent out during the experiment:

  • A list of types of movements that your phone thinks you could be doing, by likelihood. (e.g. walking: 51%, onBicycle: 4%, inRailVehicle: 3%)
  • The barometric pressure
  • Whether or not you’re connected to wifi
  • The MAC address - which is a unique identifier - of the wifi access point you’re connected to
  • The MAC address, signal strength, and frequency of every nearby wifi access point
  • The MAC address, identifier, type, and two measures of signal strength of every nearby Bluetooth beacon
  • The charge level of your phone battery and whether or not your phone is charging
  • The voltage of your battery
  • The GPS coordinates of your phone and the accuracy of those coordinates
  • The GPS elevation and the accuracy of that 

Not only do a lot of these data points present a problem, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy watchdog, but the fact that Google can track your whereabouts via Bluetooth alone, and even when your phone's Bluetooth toggle is at the "off" position, is enough to raise some alarm bells about using Location History in the future. If you want Google to stop doing this at all times, you'd have to manually turn the "scanning" option from the Bluetooth settings, and turn Location History off, too. 

Needless to say, when a Google spokesperson was reached for comment, they insisted that Location History is not on by default, and it's the Android user's choice whether to enable it or not, with the following statement:


source: Quartz (1),(2)

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11 Comments

1. YeahYeah

Posts: 248; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

I disabled Google maps long time ago. I use HERE WeGo maps, very good and have an offline option. Well I disabled most Google apps. Including the Google assistant on my S8

2. notfair

Posts: 698; Member since: Jan 30, 2017

lol, did you bother to read the article?

5. YeahYeah

Posts: 248; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

Yeah I did. Was just saying I prefer HERE WeGo maps..

8. worldpeace

Posts: 3099; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Google maps is also "very good and have an offline option" :v

10. antonmassoud

Posts: 89; Member since: Oct 22, 2016

But you will still need to enable location for it.

3. cmdacos

Posts: 3891; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Nothing worrisome for me here and more importantly my services are improved.

4. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

While I know most users won't read this, it's all written down in their agreements, so if you didn't know all this was recorded, that's on you. Besides a lot of info is gathered by other OSes as well.

7. mootu

Posts: 1422; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

I'm one of those people who is quite paranoid about privacy but none of the things they are tracking on that list would bother me in the slightest. There was nothing personal in the list. Btw i have location services turned off and i don't use Assistant.

11. CHP19

Posts: 50; Member since: Jun 23, 2017

If you have the illusion that iOS or Windows Mobile don't collect that kind of information you are very naive. This is very basic stuff.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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