Every Step You Take, Google’s Watching You

By: Hannah Andrade

When a person makes the decision, a personal and privacy-based choice to shut off Location History on their phone, one would think the Location History disabling action is final. One would assume in making that choice that they are free from any kind of tracking or recording. A person would believe the company that provides that option to disable Location History would abide by the user’s decision. Unfortunately, Google does not oblige to its own consumers. According to a recent report, “Google records users’ locations even when they have asked it not to.”[1] This alarming infringement can impact approximately two billion Apple and Android telephone users who were using Google search or maps. [2]

Google has been recording and tracking its users whether the location history has been turned on or off.[3] Google even “stores a snapshot of where you are when you open the Maps app.”[4] Even when completing an unrelated or simple search, a user’s longitude and latitude are identified.[5] The study demonstrates that despite a researcher from Princeton using an Android with location history disabled, Google continued to track the researcher and save the location markers.[6] Google continues to store information that is generated by the searches and uses of other applications, such as the Maps app.[7]

Various politicians have spoken out against this discovery.[8] Democratic congressman Frank Pallone even suggests how there should be improved data security legislation that can deter this type of circumstance from occurring.[9] Furthermore, this situation contradicts legal authority deterring or dissuading this type of action from organizations such as Google.[10] According to the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) and Data Protection Act of 2018, companies should oblige to a “legal duty to be open, transparent and fair with the public about how their personal data is used.”[11]

Google violates the GDPR and the Data Protection Act of 2018, as they continue to store location data until the user turns off both the Location History and Web & App Activity.[12] Many technology companies, such as Google, have not been compliant with the Act nor have companies been transparent with their privacy settings. Additionally, Google has allowed advertisers to track the success of online advertisements, relying on the location history.[13] Companies are demonstrating they are slyly repudiating GDPR and Data Protection laws, by making privacy options difficult for its users.

The GDPR is relevant to technology companies as it is an EU law that alters the collection and usage of personal data.[14] Companies even outside of the EU are required to follow the rules if they offer their amenities or services throughout the EU—including Google.[15] The big tech companies should abide by regulations such as the GDPR, for their own benefit and for their consumers.


[1] Jane Wakefield, Google tracks users who turn off location history, BBC News (last visited Sept. 1, 2018, 1:15 PM), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-45183041?ns_source=facebook&ocid=socialflow_facebook&ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbcnews.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] See Wakefield.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13]See Wakefield.

[14] Chris Foxx, Google and Facebook accused of breaking GDPR laws, BBC News (last visited Sept. 1, 2018, 3:00 PM), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-44252327.

[15] Id.

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