Google knows where you are… even if you don’t want them to

It seems like just about everybody has a smart phone these days.

There are many advantages to them. Including being able to quickly check the time, date and weather. Also, texting a friend or relative, taking pictures, using social media and using a calculator. Not to mention reading a news story, finding your way to a location, etc.

And, oh yeah, you can also use it to make phone calls. Imagine using a modern day phone for that purpose.

Anyway, smart phones can provide you with just about any information you’re looking for.

Using your location to make money

But they also give others information about you. Such as where you are.

Google knows where you are and they use that information to make money. They’ve also been known to share this information with others interested in discovering where you are.

Now, if you’re trying to get a ride from Uber or Lyft, it’s important for them to know where to pick you up. And your phone provides them with that information.

But what if you don’t want Google to know where you are? All you have to do is go to your privacy settings and turn off your location history, right? Wrong.

Turning off location history does no good

According to a recent Associated Press investigation, Google services on iPhones and Android devices track and store your location data. Even if you turn location history off in your privacy settings.

Turning off location history only “appears” to remove your location from the Google Maps Timeline feature.

Why is Google doing this? No, they’re not stalkers. I’m sure they don’t want to virtually follow people around.

However, they can make money off knowing where you are. How? By targeting ads based on your specific location.

Explanation changes… behavior doesn’t

When confronted with this, a Google spokesperson said, “Location History is a Google product that is entirely opt in. Users have the controls to edit, delete or turn it off at any time.

“We make sure Location History users know that when they disable the product, we continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.”

Hmmm. Sounds to me like Google is trying to improve its own experience (by selling products) more than the user’s experience.

Clearly busted by the Associated Press investigation, Google made a change. Not a change to stop doing what they were doing. Just a change that admits what they’re doing so that they don’t get in trouble for lying.

Previously Google said, “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

Three days after the AP investigation went public, they started saying, “Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, such as Search and Maps.”

Apple commentator calls it “shameful”

An Apple commentator named John Gruber recently responded to this change by writing, “Google is saying, with a straight face, that it’s perfectly clear that disabling the feature named ‘Location History’ does not prevent Google from tracking your location history.”

Gruber then called this practice “shameful.”

Unless you’re willing to unplug, there’s little you can do to avoid being tracked online. But there are some ways to control what ads you see and how the ads are tailored to you.

Turn off cookies

Whether you’re using Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer, there are options to turn off your cookies setting. For example, in Chrome click “settings,” “show advanced settings” and then click on “content settings.” Once there, you can disable cookies.

Turn off targeted Facebook ads

To opt out of Facebook showing you targeted ads from other sites, or from seeing Facebook’s ads on other sites, open your Facebook page and click “settings,” and then “ads.”

Then click on the “ads based on my use of websites and apps” setting and press the “choose setting” button and select “off.” Once you turn this feature off, Facebook says you will still see the same number of ads, but they may be less relevant to you. It also won’t stop Facebook (and other companies) from tracking you. It simply means that information won’t be used to show ads targeted to you.

Go incognito 

Major browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari, have a private browsing setting, also known as incognito. Using this feature means your browser will ignore cookies, including ad-tracking cookies and will not record your history.

What do you think? If you use a smart phone, do you care if Google knows where you are? And does it bother you that they might use this information to make money or share this information with others?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

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