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[dupe] Google tracks users who turn off location history (bbc.co.uk)
467 points by oinkgrr 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Didn't appear as an item for me yesterday at all - something's not right about that!

Wow! I didn't know you could look at the homepage based on day. That's awesome, thanks!!

https://news.ycombinator.com/lists includes that option among other lists. The story from yesterday is currently number 11 on the best list.

You can also check them by order of votes with waybackhn: http://www.waybackhn.com/?date=2018-08-13

How come that is not in top items of hacker news?

Lots of factors go into it. Key words in titles and certain domains can drag things down.


Because the evil Google conspiracy suppressed it!

You say that as if xorporations didn't do this by e.g. vote manipulation in Reddit.

It was yesterday.

The algorithm accounts for time.

oh, missed that.

To add one datum, I turned off location history thinking that meant that Google would use my _current_ location for Maps, Search etc while not storing my _past_ locations. Their interface and messaging did not succeed in dissuading me from this belief, despite the fact that I was explicitly looking for messaging and settings related to protecting my privacy.

Was I naive to believe this was even possible in the first place? Probably. I used to think Google were basically good guys, so I thought that when they said something they actually meant it, and I was willing to forgive them for minor mistakes and bad press. This is the first time I actually feel like they've lied to me.

I'll be migrating my personal Google accounts elsewhere. Suggestions are welcome for good alternatives, free/non-free/whatever, that offer effective privacy controls.

> Suggestions are welcome for good alternatives,

I'm in the move away myself. Here's some services I've started using, in many areas I'm still looking for other replacements. Hopefully others can help.

1. E-Mail : protonmail.com, I really like this one, great service.

2. Video Calls : I'm currently using signal to some extent, not very happy though, would really like something like Hangouts.

3. Browser : Firefox

4. Phone : Apple

5. Things I'm still looking for : Google Calender, Drive, Chat, Backup Storage services.

Using ProtonMail too. Very happy, and you get to use ProtonVPN too.

Also install Privacy Badger extension (or other tracker-/ad-blocker) in your browser and block Google Analytics etc.

And for site-owners that use Google Analytics now: there are alternatives, like e.g. Matomo.

I've used Signal for a while and I think it's great although admittedly I don't use video calls on it very often (mostly because the people I need to video call are mostly not on Signal).

For Drive the best alternative I've found is Dropbox. It's not free but at least the business model isn't (yet) about monetizing your data.

I tried Signal the other day to call a friend in the US from Greece and was blown away by the quality. It was as if I was using a landline to call someone in my city, it was amazing. Even the latency was nonexistent, which I don't know how it happened since they're bound by the speed of light.

For video calls, you should try zoom.us. From what I've seen, they have the best streaming infrastructure of any of the major players (FaceTime, Hangouts, Webex, GoToMeeting). Apps for all the major platforms, too. The only bad thing is that if you're on a multi-way call, they limit you to 40 minutes.

> The only bad thing is that if you're on a multi-way call, they limit you to 40 minutes.

To be clear, that's for the free version. You can pay to remove this limit (along with getting some other features).

> The only bad thing is that if you're on a multi-way call, they limit you to 40 minutes.

40m limit is for free accounts. Paid will get you video calls as long as you want to go.

Besides some needed minor UI tweaks, I love Zoom.

On Protonmail: I've been using it for about a year now and their spam filtering is terrible. I was thinking about migrating my yahoo account to them but it does nothing to prevent the huge amount of recruiter spam I get. I also am not a fan of how little space you get with them.

FWIW, Fastmail filters spam very well for me.

> 5. Things I'm still looking for : Google Calender, Drive

Fastmail provides a DavCAL calendar and some storage space with their email offering. They also have a wonderful browser client (much better that gmail at least for me).

+1, I recommend FastMail's web client too if you like to manage your email and calendar using a browser. It's fast and snappy, has a clean interface (they have a couple of themes you can choose from), and it's pretty lightweight (for example, a gmail tab uses 195 MB for me while Fastmail's uses 51 MB).

For file syncing, I recommend Syncthing and/or Nextcloud (they're slightly different, Syncthing syncs directories peer-to-peer extremely well, Nextcloud is an OSS Dropbox alternative).

If you already have an apple phone the apple calendar is competent. Keybase is a potential alternative to drive (if you don't use it on mobile much). Signal for chat

Drive: Dropbox Backup: Backblaze B2

I’d recommend taking a look at https://www.privacytools.io. It has quite a few recommendations for different services that respect your privacy, many of which are FOSS.

For e-mail, calendars, and contacts I’ve migrated over to FastMail. In my opinion the web client and help articles are far superior to Google’s offerings. You can even use your own domain along with 100+ aliases.

For cloud storage I have migrated from Google Drive to iCloud Drive. Obviously this is not FOSS but it gets the job done for me.

There are some Google services that are irreplaceable for me though so I continue to use them. These are Google Maps, Voice, YouTube, Translate, and Docs.

I will second FastMail and the claim that its web client is superior to GMail. In fact, the entire service is superior to GMail. It's faster, the UI is snappier, IMAP integration is better, the features are way more advanced, etc. It even lets you use a custom anti-spam servicename@username.mydomain.com scheme natively.

For file syncing, I quite like Dropbox and Syncthing.

>For cloud storage I have migrated from Google Drive to iCloud Drive

I've moved to Nextcloud. It is completely open source, but you need to run it on your own server. Since it's provided in a Snap package, setup only takes a few minutes. I personally use a $5 per month Linode, but many people opt to use something like a Raspberry Pi.

Having your own server also allows you to ditch third party email and VPN providers, though those are more complicated to set up.

A potential alternative to Google translate is deepl. It doesn't do website translation like Google translate does in Chrome but I've found it to be better for texts in English, French and German.

I turned off location history and Google Maps won't even remember my past search queries. Like, you can store those on my device, and there is NO privacy issue. Such a simple use case, of course I'll sometimes search for the same thing again. Not auto-completing that is just a nagging dysfunctionality to annoy people that value their privacy.

I remember that ~20 years ago we called input boxes that remembered your past searches, "intelligent". Yet one of today's top AI companies, can't even do it.

11 months ago, I posted a Ask HN exactly about that. I got flagged. Now I see that I was at least partially right.


https://microg.org/ is a FLOSS replacement for Google Play Services that can be used with AOSP for a (mostly) Google-free Android experience.

I use keybase.io for file storage, as well as chatting other people on the service, but it can't chat out so isn't all that useful for communication.

Protonmail for email

As far as android is concerned the only real alternative is apple. They have their own privacy concerns but at least its possible to create a relatively secure device. Android has a few projects being worked on to fix this, but nothing solid yet (eelo is a good example).

Maps is the hard one for me. I haven't been able to find a privacy respecting alternative. By the nature of the application you have to provide some kind of location data. If you're really trying to cut it out you can just get a list of directions from a start to end point and follow that, but i don't recommend this because it encourages more distracted driving.

DuckDuckGo.com for search, at a g! to any query to have it redirect to google if you can't get the results you need, but most things DDG will find just fine.

For documents I use an skinned emacs called Spacemacs, but that isn't something i'd recommend to everyone and doesn't address problems like live document editing with others.

tl;dr its just really, really hard and inconvenient to keep your data under your control and requires constant vigilance

Edit: Oh and signal works really well for text. It can replace the default messenger on an android phone and encrypt any messages to other signal users transparently while still sending and reading regular texts

The location history setting is for Timeline, a feature that lives inside Google Maps app. I use Timeline often and find it useful. I hope all the FUD you people are spreading about it does not force Google to get rid of the Timeline feature. Maybe in the future they'll include a lengthy explanation next to that switch for the fearful among us.

I'm glad you like and want to use this functionality. I don't. Hopefully we can coexist simply by my turning off my location services and history.

It would help if Google wouldn't ask me to review the coffee just in front of my current bus stop.

From time to time I visit https://myactivity.google.com/myactivity and every time I need to turn something off again.

Here's a subset of what Google knows about you to tailor ads for you: https://adssettings.google.com/authenticated

I've had that off for a while. Now my ads on Gmail only offer me to date women and men 60+.

This whole story is about the name "Location History" aka timeline being confusing as people think it means a location tracking privacy setting while it's actually a Google product name. Can we rename it to "Location History product poorly named"?

Can we rename it to "<Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC> product poorly named"?

I bought my first smartphone about 6 months ago - a BLU R2. Really like the phone, and here's how I use it:

1. I use puretalkusa.com's $20/month phone plan. It comes with 20MB of data per month, then throttles.

2. Disabled Cellular Data

3. Disabled WIFI

4. Never setup or signed in to my Google account from the phone.

5. Disabled anything that gave me any pause about privacy, including Location services.

6. Covered the fingerprint reader with electrical tape.

And still, the other day my phone decided to reboot itself in the middle of the day. I only know this because it played a little jingle. After the reboot, Location services was enabled again. Hmm... I disabled it, but it made me wonder if this wasn't some kind of forced reboot so someone could ping my location. This has happened once before, in the middle of the night - a good time to find out where someone lives.

"Turning off" location history == Don't show me my location history. It's not like Google (or Apple) is going to actually stop tracking you.

I love showing iPhone users the section in Settings where all their location history is. Most have no idea it's there.

Do you also show them the part where it says "Significant Locations are encrypted and cannot be read by Apple"? They're local to the device, not sent back to them.

The iPhone location history is on your iPhone not at Apple.

And Apple doesn’t track you. They cycle identifiers regularly for exactly this reason.

Spreading falsehoods about this being something everyone does is harmful because it normalizes the abusive behavior from those that actually do.

In order for your location as given by GPS to be useful, a round trip to a server is made to convert that information into a street address. This geocoding could be done client side, but for practical purposes, it's not. This is even moreso for additional external information mobiles use to better locate you, such as known WiFi access points, "beacons" and cell tower IDs.

All of that server traffic is logged (by both Apple and your carrier), and can be requested by law enforcement if needed. Regardless of what Apple marketing and lawyers would like you to think, your phone is being tracked in real time, always. Always.

You are just guessing, right?

I’m aware of Apple’s geocoding service. It uses an encrypted connection, so the server traffic is not ‘logged by your carrier’, and they use transient identifiers so your location is not ‘logged by Apple’ and can’t be ‘requested by law enforcement if needed’.

Carriers are a different matter, but don’t make stuff up about Apple.

The reason the location history is not local is because the data is for Timeline, a feature of Google Maps which has its own web site. If the data were only local, I wouldn't be able to use a web browser on my computer to peruse my Timeline and photos from my phone. It would be broken.

What are you talking about? We know google is keeping tracking data despite users turning it off.

But Apple is not.

Read the article.

I did, and it supports my point.

Nowhere does it say anything about apple tracking people.

What’s your point?

If Apple doesn't track me then why does icloud.com force me to re-login every time I switch which country I'm in? How would they know I moved countries (plane/vpn) if I weren't remembering where I was previously?


in other words it tracks me..it's not when I switch ips. it's when u switch countries. it may be figuring that out by up but it had to remember my previous ip and distiguish country which is by definition tracking

How do you know? Have you audited the source of iOS?

No but I believe the technical whitepapers and public statements Apple has made.

If you are going to just claim they are lying, you are the one who needs evidence.

People can stalk people. Beyond a certain threshold (defined by jurisdiction), it's illegal.

Why wouldn't this apply to corporations? To (legal) entity?

Corporations and their lobbyists spend a lot of time, money, and effort claiming they are "people". For example, with respect to their "free speech" -- meaning, lately, unlimited spending on political campaigns.

Well, ok then, I would propose that they can stalk, like people.

Oh, but wait, there's the catch. They've already beaten me, with their outsized pocketbooks, to the very people who would legally define this.

In the U.S., at least, the law is a _____. Pardon my, albeit self-censored, decidedly improper language. But sometimes, crudeness is the rhetoric of clarity -- in all its unpleasantness and offensiveness.

It is becoming too easy to pick on Google. There are many Web apps that use location. BestBuy, just to pick one arbitrary example, will ask permission to discover my location in order to show me my nearest stores. This is, of course, very useful, and I am happy this service exists. What I do not know is whether or not BestBuy or many other companies are sharing this information with other companies. My assumption is that BestBuy et. al are using a middleware web service, and that company probably makes money selling location information to advertisers.

For me it is just depressingly hopless: as soon as I go on the Internet of phone network, I have given up a lot of privacy.

I think we have a different definition of "very useful". I find it intrusive and routinely deny those requests. It's simple to pop my zip in a form to find the nearest store.

What if I shut down the google maps app after every use (iphone)? Surely they can't track after that.

There are multiple layers here.

The current controversy is whether Google keeps a history of your location data tied to your Google account when you ask them not to. It turns out there are two different places they record it, so you have to disable both.

Separately there is the question of whether Google can get your location data from your phone at all. On your iPhone, you can specify "Never", "While using", or "Always" for Google Maps' access to your location.

If you specify "While using" and force quit the app, no, they can no longer access your location.

I do not know for certain, but suspect, that if you use the home button or multitouch gesture to leave Google Maps, it's still effectively being "used" and thus can still access your location.

The "while using" permission does allow apps to continue using your location in the background, but you get a status indicator when that is the case.

Source: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203033

You can tell if there was a CLLocationManager framework call to startUpdatingLocation() depending on the color of the location arrow in Location Services settings. AFAIK, it is not possible to use location manager without first registering a location authorization type (When in use, always, etc).

To be fair this should be dropped from the front page, or merged with yesterdays post.

Massively downvoted, seriously?

I didn't mean 'remove' from the front page, but merge it with the other post and leave it in position on the front page... wow, you guys.

Still don't understand why this story blowing out all of a sudden.

It's common knowledge that the biggest internet ad company likes your data and wants it for its recommendation systems.

If you want to turn off Location History, which is a feature, a product in itself, you can.

If you don't want your searches to be tracked, use another engine like DuckDuckGo or Qwant. If you still want Google, you can disable the location tracking. In addition, they provide a tool to see exactly what they store and you can delete any entry.

Also, of course Maps will want to know your location, you can turn off your GPS anyway. The only troubling point is the storage of the location at the opening for no reason I don't know if you can disable this.

The _title_ of the article says "Google tracks users who turn off location history", and the article further develops the claim. Yes, Google offers the option to "turn off Location History". No, turning off Location History doesn't stop Google from tracking your location by other means. Google engages in physical world surveillance against the express instructions of its users, misleading them in the process.

Not cool.

Google allows you to turn off the Location History feature AND allows you to stop giving out your location.

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. The setting was at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

This is example #687 of why not to trust Google or any other surveillance capitalist.


> Google makes no attempt to hide what is happening and if you enable Location History Google will actually spam you with email warnings that you have Location History turned on.

I had the web and app activity turned off, never received this email.

What is clear to you may not be clear to everyone. It wasn't clear to me, for example, and I understand this stuff much better than the average person.

This is a regrettable, yet a sadly common view. "If you use products by Company X, you must understand they gather an immerse personal profile on you - like it or not. That's just how Company X works! If you don't like that, use a competing product."

Companies are not above law, and the gathering and use of personally identifiable information is regulated for a very good reason in our society (I don't think many Americans were thrilled when their info was leaked in the Equifax breach.) Ultimately, consumers should be able to choose products they use freely without worrying about their privacy being automatically violated. It might not be the case today, as this article shows, but so was establishing a cartel to charge consumers exorbitant prices and bully competition out of business also an acceptable business tactic for most of the 19th century, before anti-trust legislation was enacted.

So I think it's good that reporters an are taking issue when companies engage in questionable practices when applying their users' privacy preferences. Like Google here not stopping collecting a profile of your past locations, even if you turn off a privacy setting titled "Location History".

That's actually regrettable, I agree.

What's more regrettable in my opinion is that piece is inflated in comparison to something like the Equifax scandal because:

1. This is a service you opt in to use (there's competition), you can opt-out off the tracking in 3 clicks, and your data is safe (so far)

2. Equifax leaked the SSN of millions who haven't even subscribed to their service

Anyway, I agree, we can still improve customer privacy and transparency.

> you can opt-out off the tracking in 3 clicks, and your data is safe (so far)

Yes, if you know where to click! But would you have known without reading this that disabling "Location History" does not actually .. well .. disable location history?

    If you want to turn off Location History, which is a feature, a product in itself, you can.
The point is that despite turning off location history, this doesn't stop Google from tracking you and doesn't respect their users privacy when they ask for it.

Yes they do. Location History is a feature you can disable, pretty easily.

They never claimed "Turn this off if you don't want to share your location in any of the Google services you use. There actually is a control panel for your global settings.

I think we have lowered the bar for companies like Google far too much. Honestly, it would be reasonable to expect Google not to do any location tracking across any of their services at all, without obvious and explicit approval of the users, granularly service by service, and with the ability to reverse that decision. We should be aiming for opt-in tracking, not opt-out. Fine print in large EULAs, or dark patterns in privacy controls, don't count as genuine opt-in procedures in my opinion.

The second feature you have to disable to limit this tracking is Web And App Activity. This is a bundled feature which means you can't choose the utterly reasonable status "improve my search suggestions but don't use my location". More importantly, the Google Privacy Checkup where you find this setting offers no hint that it involves location monitoring. Here's the text:

"Google is saving your searches and other Google activity. Google is also saving activity such as which apps you use, your Chrome history, and which sites you visit on the web."

I don't see why a reasonable reader would interpret that as building extensive location history. (Well, excluding "because they don't trust Google", which is kind of the point.)

I just checked. First hint is the "GPS icon" on every Search entry and the location is displayed when you click on "Details".

Second, on the Activity Commands, you just have to click on the link to See More and it's explicitly stated that the location is stored.

Where are you looking? I don't see any of the terms or icons you're describing. (I don't doubt you, but Google tends to have multiple ways to access every feature.)

I'm going, on browser, to Privacy -> Your Privacy Controls -> Go To Privacy Checkup -> Start Now. On that screen, Web & App Activity has an overall toggle, a checkbox for including Chrome history and data from sites and apps that use Google services, and a Manage Activity link. There's no GPS icon shown, I genuinely have no idea what the checkbox does (that description covers everything I expect from 'Web & App Activity', so what's left if the toggle is on and the box is off?), and the whole thing is sitting right next to the Location History control in a way that strongly implies location data is in the second area.

The Manage Activity link brings me to a further page with searches and app activations listed, but the description still says nothing about location and I still don't see a GPS icon. I can't check specific searches, because I have this feature turned off. (I turned it on to test, but it doesn't update live.) I don't see Activity Commands or See More anywhere at all.

I also found a second, distinct page called Activity Controls from the privacy menus, with the same toggle/checkbox/manage options but a different description of what the feature does! (The text next to the checkbox is the same, and still completely unclear to me.) No GPS icons or use of the word 'location' here either.

I admit that each of those descriptions mentions Google Maps, but they do so in the context of autocomplete and faster/smarter searches. It looks for all the world like this page is about populating my Maps history by my past searches (which I do want) and not populating it by my location (which I don't want).

So, yes, this feature can be turned off. And I believe you that the specific searches have GPS data if you've got it turned on. But I just spent 20 minutes trying to find any sign that location data is stored here other than opening the details on specific links, using Google's recommended privacy-preservation feature, with instructions from other people, and still failed. This seems like a pretty exotic version of 'transparency'.

Read the article.

Exactly. What's your point?

I read the ones from yesterday, including the AP that started the "scandal". The problem is that since Cambridge Analytica, any piece of privacy issue gets a clickbaity headline for little reason just to get viral, play with fear and emotions, and drive traffic. All of that for ads money from Google. Full circle.

On this story: Headline is "Google tracks users who turn off location history ", sub-headline is "Pretty sneaky", but actually in the article : "We provide clear descriptions of these tools, and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time".

Read the article. What are the "clear descriptions and robust controls" to turn off the following Google location tracking behaviors:

> Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you open the Maps app

> Automatic weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where a user is

> Searches that have nothing to do with location pinpoint precise longitude and latitude of users

These are all features that people expect to work regardless of what they do with their settings... Why would you want a weather update for somewhere you aren't? If you search drug store should it tell you about the concept of drug stores or the actual drug stores that are down the street? There would be tons of people upset that Google is broken if it didn't take location into account for search.

For weather, I use 2 mechanisms: a. I setup IPhone weather app to my home town location. Works 95% of the time, I'm not traveling that much. b. Search for "<town> weather" when I'm traveling. Browser autocomplete makes this trivial. Fairly easy and doesn't feed Google with a stream of personalized location information.


A day in the life of a BigAdCo surveillance apologist:

1. Claim it's obviously easy to disable the tracking behavior.

2. Claim the tracking behavior is absolutely necessary for feature X.

3. Claim that someone else would do the track tracking / is doing the tracking, so BigAdCo must do it to compete. [Notice how this conflicts with 4].

4. Claim that users could just use the competition. [Notice how this conflicts with 3].

5. ???

6. Profit!

Yes, you can manually set cities, but the article cites automatic weather updates. That's the part that requires your location. Knowing where you are is the only way this feature can work. You don't need to use it and if you're happy with "browser autocomplete" vs a widget that shows the current weather then by all means use the browser.

> Knowing where you are is the only way this feature can work.

I'm 100% confident that IPhone weather app updates automatically the weather for my home town. It doesn't need my personalized location, just the location for my home town.

Yes, but that's not what this is. This shows you the weather where you are, regardless of your hometown or if you're there. You can also do this in Apple's weather app, here is what it looks like when you open it for the first time:


taking current location into account !== building a cumulative location profile over time without explicit consent

Should it geotag your photo with your current location, assuming you have that feature enabled in the camera app?

Should it use your location to contextualize your query for "pizza near me?" If so, does that mean your browsing history has to be redacted so that it isn't possible later to infer your location from your selection of a candidate restaurant?

I think different people will have different opinions about what constitutes a "cumulative location profile." Google's definition makes intuitive sense to me personally but I can see how there might be other points of view on it.

I can understand the public outrage, but on HN it surprises me that almost everyone seems to think this is a clear case of pure evil.


Exactly. Google also sends all the data from all your contacts back to Google so they can publish it to the entire world including to China!

(To that portion of the world that knows your Gmail account and password, and if you were traveling in China and accessing your email account then yeah your contacts would also be transmitted to China.)

I just can't believe the higher-quality clientele that used to be Hacker News are eating this up like this. I guess we're all human after all.

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