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How Google is tracking your location, even when you’re not using Google Maps

By Alvin Soon - on 25 Jan 2018, 12:01pm

How Google is tracking your location, even when you’re not using Google Maps

It started innocuously enough — Google Maps asked me to rate a mall I’d left minutes ago. I figured Maps knew where I was because I’d used it to guide me to this mall, so I dismissed it.

But when I switched to a Samsung Note8 to review the Gear Sport, I began to get creepier notifications. Google Maps would ask me to rate places I’d been, but these weren’t places I’d used Maps to get to. In fact, I’d never even opened the Maps app while there.

A quick Google search shows that I’m not alone in getting disturbed about the constant tracking. The tracking comes from opting into a feature called Location History, but it wasn’t entirely clear just how much Google is tracking you and when.

Now, Quartz has done the legwork to find out. Writer David Yanofsky used three Android smartphones to track what was being sent to Google. It’s not only GPS locations that are quietly sent every once in a while. These phones also broadcasted the MAC addresses of their Wi-Fi access points, as well as the MAC addresses of nearby Wi-Fi access points. MAC addresses are unique identifiers, and can be used to pinpoint location.

Location History is entirely opt-in. But as Quartz points out, it’s not always clear when you’re opting in and what you’re signing up for. Yanofsky’s article has a list of where and when Google apps ask for permission to turn on Location History.

Having Location History turned on helps Google deliver more personalized services. When Google knows your daily commute, for example, you’ll get notified about traffic ahead of time. So there are benefits to be had at the cost of privacy. If you’re on the fence between privacy and convenience, you can see a timeline of your location history for yourself.

If having a US-based private company know that much about you disturbs you, you can turn off and delete your Location History here.

Read the full article at Quartz to get the details.