I must keep the post brief today but this needs to be said. There are a bunch of stories currently floating around in the news globally, making claims like “Google tracks your location even when you tell it not to!” and other alarming related headlines.
This is all false hype-o-rama.
Google has a variety of products that can make use of location data, both desktop and mobile, and of course there are various kinds of location data in these contexts — IP address location estimates, cell phone location data, etc. So it’s logical that these need to be handled in different ways, and that users have appropriate options for dealing with each of them in different Google services. Google explains in detail how they use this data, the tight protections they have over who can access this data — and they never sell this data to anyone.
Google pretty much bends over backwards when it comes to describing how this stuff works and the comprehensive controls that users have over data collection and deletion (see: “The Google Page That Google Haters Don’t Want You to Know About” – https://lauren.vortex.com/2017/04/20/the-google-page-that-google-haters-dont-want-you-to-know-about).
Can one argue that Google could make this even simpler for users to deal with? Perhaps, but how to effectively make it all even simpler than it is now in any kind of practical way is not immediately obvious.
The bottom line is that Google gives users immense control over all of this. You don’t need to worry about Google.
What you should be worrying about is the entities out there who gather your location data without your consent or control, who usually never tell you what they’re doing with it. They hoard that data pretty much forever, and use it, sell it, and abuse it in ways that would make your head spin.
A partial list? Your cellular carrier. They know where your phone is whenever it’s on their network. They collect this data in great detail. Turning off your GPS doesn’t stop them — they use quite accurate cell tower triangulation techniques in that case. Most of these carriers (unlike Google, who has very tight controls) have traditionally provided this data to authorities with just a nod and a wink!
Or how about the license plate readers that police and other government agencies have been deploying like mad, all over the country! They know where you drive, when you travel — and they collect this data in most cases with no real controls over how it will be used, how long it will be held, and who else can get their hands on it! You want someone to be worried about, worry about them!
And the list goes on.
It’s great for headlines and clickbait to pound on Google regarding location data, but they’re on the side of the angels in this debate.
And that’s the truth.