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Google – My Location History (google.com)
83 points by feross 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

This looks like a follow-up to https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20050764.

I used to willingly enable this and enjoyed this page. But it was recently revealed that Google shares bulk location data with law enforcement, offering the list of all devices that were in a certain area. That was the line for me. Disabled.


> The new orders, sometimes called “geofence” warrants, specify an area and a time period, and Google gathers information from Sensorvault about the devices that were there.

Do you think if you disable this they will not share with law enforcement? I wonder if it makes a difference.

It does make a difference. If you disable it, the data doesn't get stored in the first place, so there's nothing to share.

This was discussed a couple months ago here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19653647

My comment on it (expanded a little):

Even without Google or Apple, the police have the cell service providers. In the case of the Austin bomber from a year ago[0], police got cell tower records from the multiple bombings and figured out who was at all the locations. Cell phones are little trackers unless you turn them off or don't carry one.

The police don't need Google or Apple here, the carriers are already tracking who connects to what towers (and I believe they are required to do this by law)

[0] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna85...

How would you know that? My base assumption is to think there’s a possibility that it’s still being tracked in some way.

By disable, do you mean "pause"? Is there any third-party verification that they aren't storing this data? Are they just not associating it with my account at this time?

Wasn't there news a few years back that Android Phones uploaded location history happening while "offline" when they finally connected to WiFi; that ended up blamed as "a bug"? OTOH law enforcement has a direct access to baseband modem anyway, so they can triangulate switched off phones with batteries inside, and if those phones have large enough capacitors, even with removed batteries. Having some competent aggregator like Google might be helpful though.

Do you a citation for that? That government had access to the modem and being able to locate switched off phones?

IIRC there was some discussion about it on some Neo900-related forums, but it was a few years I'd looked over there. One of the reasons they had switches for both baseband modem and mic to be sure they aren't powered.

It makes no different. The data is still logged.

is this verifiable?

Yes. You can reverse engineer apk-s to see what's going on. (apktool) Or you can inspect the network traffic that goes through your wifi. (mitmproxy + Xposed/JustTrustMe)

Very little your cell phone is doing is truly verifiable. If you don't trust Google/Apple to not bald-face lie, and privacy is super important to you, toss your phone.

Unless you are planning criminal activity in the future, this feature could act as an alibi to absolve you of being in the place where a crime was committed. And, false positives aside, I think it's great that law enforcement has the tools to keep society safe and civil. Law enforcement is not always == bad

Tracking the movements of all citizens is not a compromise that ought to be made to keep society safe. This power can and will be abused to target minority groups (closeted LGBT, minority ethnic groups..). Also in America law enforcement has too many times to count abused their power, and fabricated results from "evidence".

As any lawyer would say: Don't speak to the police, even if you're innocent. Same with this. If I personally want to share my own private tracking data that my lawyer says I can share.. sure. But I do not want this entire data free for law enforcement to see.

It's nice in theory but can also be helped to convict you if you happen to be near the wrong place at the wrong time. Interesting related video by Law Professor and Police Officer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE

I once did an FOIA request and found I was being monitored by the NYPD for being a regular donor to the NYCLU.

Law /enforcement/ isn’t always bad, but mass surveillance of the general populace is.

>Unless you are planning criminal activity in the future

it's a good thing all laws are just, then, huh?

And that constructing false narratives from meta data isn't a thing

That really makes no sense given how easy it would be to fake. You'd have to also prove you had possession of the device at the time.

What I could see happening is the absence of the data becoming a factor for increased scrutiny. Because, of course, if you don't have anything to hide... why did you stop Google from tracking you?

What I'm hearing is that I should strap this to my dog, and commit a phone-less crime.

You have a very naive and sheltered view of the world we live in then.

Honestly, I find this really useful and love being able to see where I've been, especially since I travel on almost a weekly basis.

It's an invaluable tool for me and I trust Google to safeguard the information. They haven't failed me yet, and if they ever do, it should be easy enough to delete the info.

I like it as well - but google is almost certainly using this data to target you. I also wish I more control. Is there a way to export to GPX? It would be fun to create a heat map of your daily locations over the course of years.

By "target", do you mean that they're using the information I voluntarily give them to provide me with more accurate and useful ads? Because, I mean, that's not a terrible trade-off.

You actually see nonzero value in more targeted ads? Genuinely asking.

Yes. I'd rather see ads for things I might actually buy than things I would never buy. If I could have an ad for a website I like instead of an ad for a website I would never go to that sounds like a good things to me.

I look at it more through a behavioral lens. If you know a lot about someone you can use that information to modify their behavior and decisions. I'd prefer to minimize behavioral triggers like and retain more influence over my own destiny.

There's no trade-off. Everything that's provided here could be done trivially on your device. You tell Google your daily movements and get back nothing in return.

Perhaps I could trivially have my device store this data. But I couldn't trivially have an always-on web interface to the information with search, timeframes, maps, etc. Let's not act like Google isn't doing anything besides data collection here.

This is something I've never gotten. I don't really mind targeted ads, they generally are more interesting to me than non targeted ads (which is a super low bar) and are worth more money, which is how all of these services are able to be "free" (and personally I would rather they are free with targeted ads in a lot of cases than having to pay, streaming services being the main exception. I know much of HN would disagree, though).

Edit: this is off topic but I also always share my location with my wife which people have mixed reactions about, which surprises me because it's been great so far. Maybe I just view this stuff differently.

I don’t click on ads so, if given the choice between targeted and non-targeted ads, I’d rather have non-targeted ones, because then at least I have a little more assurance that I’m not being tracked. The “relevance” of an ad is totally unimportant to me since I disregard them. What’s important is whether my PII is being traded around like baseball cards.

My thing I would like first is some visibility into the data that people have about me and what other entities that data goes to (Google does this somewhat which had been cool for me but I haven't found it for other places). I don't mind being tracked in many cases but no visibility makes it so even if there were things I really care about I wouldn't know about it.

yes the government is tracking you, youre very important

AFAIK Google account activity exports are limited to JSON and HTML. There may be a way to convert the JSON to GPX somehow.

Probably yes - GPSBabel is your friend for all kinds of location data conversions: https://www.gpsbabel.org/

Not wishing to be sarky, but surely "if they ever do" fail you it's too late.

I had a bike stolen once from the bike garage in my apartment, and I used my Google location history to prove to the garage owner that I indeed arrived there on the bike and never left afterwards.

Also useful if you lost your phone.

Your location history can be kept entirely on your device, or uploaded encrypted. There's no benefit to you for allowing Google to see it.

Google services may benefit all individuals using them but net negative whole the society as a whole.

The "what it is for me" attitude of consumerism requires something else to balance it out.

Why are they a net negative? Genuine question.

Creating a mass surveillance apparatus seems harmless right up until the wrong kind of government takes power. Then it suddenly becomes a lethal tool of oppression.

OwnTracks. Open source, self-hosted option that uses standard protocols. iOS and an Android apps available.

This is turining out to be quite extensive. It also have options for sharing with family (and friends). And triggering custom action when arriving/leaving a location.

OwnTracks: https://owntracks.org/

Docs: https://owntracks.org/booklet/

Like many other comments, I like this and find it useful. Recently I took a Lyft ride late from SFO to home and it was late and I was tired and I didnt concentrate on the route taken by the driver but I was certain we took the 101. Later when I saw the charge, I was surprised to see the ride map showing me taking a roundabout way, heading on 280 and essentially doing a 70mile ride. I complained to Lyft and they refunded the money but I still wanted to know how I got home. Checked back on this and found that it was in fact a regular 101 ride home and I had proof just in case Lyft wanted it.

As others have mentioned, it is nice to look back at the trips I took and also share with others who might be visiting places where I have been in the past.

> it was in fact a regular 101 ride home

Confused... you make it sound like faulty location history led you to erroneously report your Lyft driver. But that doesn't jive with the tone and thrust of your comment.

I too am confused. If I'm interpreting (guessing) correctly, Lyft showed (and charged based on) an erroneous route in their app. GP reported it and got a refund, but after reviewing Google's location history found that the driver had actually driven the route that they expect, not the route that Lyft claimed they did.

It sounds like the Google map confirmed his intuition but the Lyft map had a lengthy bogus route. So he was overcharged.

Sorry my post was confusing.

Lyft had the wrong route (280 and longer) Google confirmed my suspicion that we took the shorter route (101) Lyft credited back regardless but it was good to know what really happened

My location history showed me as being on the strip in Las Vegas for 40 minutes while I was at google's Next conference in SF this year, which i found to be interesting. As far as I can tell my phone must have registered an SSID that caused google to think i was in Vegas. My history no longer shows this, but i did save some screen caps.


This happens sometimes with conferences. I was at one recently where it changed everyone's auto set time zone to Mountain time, because the conference set up came from Utah

I've been wanting to disable this for years now but find it too interesting and sometimes useful to look back on.

I've ditched many Google services due to Google being Google yet I still have this enabled which is somewhat ironic.

One day I'd like to figure out how to implement some sort of private alternative to this without using Google.

That page needs a bit of help. The call to action to install could be more front and center and the docs link is buried in the last sentence. Arguably the docs link is way more important than github or Twitter

Docs here: https://owntracks.org/booklet/

Just a quick note - if like me you deleted your location history then disabled it, all you'll see is a prompt to delete your (non-existent) location history, which confused me for a bit.

After disabling all Google history - location, web, search etc - I don't notice much of a difference in the usefulness of Google services, but the one thing that still hangs around is purchase and booking history because my company uses GSuite. When I want to delete that history it tells me to delete that email - I think I should be able to turn that off somehow, but don't know how.

Edit: To do justice to Google, they do seem to be respecting my wishes not to store any of that history, at least in any explicit form.

From other comments, it seems like that history is sourced directly from your emails; you'd need to delete the (archived?) emails to remove it from the list.

Yes, perhaps I wasn't clear - I did say it tells me to delete the emails, but given that it's a paid service I think there should be a separate setting where I can tell GSuite not to scan my emails.

I know it is not really advisable to share this info with third parties in general, but I'd love to have this data under my control, since it is has proven very to my-self.

A few examples on why it has been useful to me:

- When did I go to the dentist last?

- Where did that credit card charge I see in my bank statement originated?

- Where did I go on the day I lost my umbrella?

Another user mentioned OwnTracks, coupled with a broker like Mosquitto. That might fit your needs.

Does anyone know if turning this off turns off the restaurant recommendations? I don't really want my location data on here, but I do enjoy some of the convenient notifications that Google gives me like suggested businesses.

I disabled it a long time ago

Be sure to click on the nodes to get your full history.

This is why I 1) switched back to Apple Maps and 2) never say yes when Google asks for my location in Safari on iOS (it doesn't change the query results anyway)

Similar, though I switched to HERE WeGo on Android (but they have an iOS version as well).

It's another "I'm scared of google tracking this thing but can't give a reason why" episode. It's bad if law enforcement has your location data because...? Are you a criminal?

> It's bad if law enforcement has your location data because...?

I'm on the lax and forgiving end of the privacy debate but even I find this statement breathtaking.

Would you be as cavalier about giving up other similar protections? i.e. unwarranted search, self-incrimination etc. They can all be attacked with similar "if you've done nothing wrong..." arguments.

Tell me how someone going into your home and searching or self-incrimination is the same as law enforcement knowing where you are

Someone going into your home and self-incrimination are different to each other but they both exist for the same underlying reason.

There have been places in recent history where your sexual preference could have been "criminal". Or your level of intelligence.

Again, deflecting the question at hand. Please give an example of when in your everyday life will it hurt you or anyone that law enforcement knows where you are

I can't go"hunting" anymore

No data after march 2015. Good.

It shows me driving over water. That's interesting. I'm not seeing a bridge.

To conserve battery, you phone only reports current location periodically. The location history then draws a straight line between successive plot points.

Would airplane mode or poor signal change that? I think GPS is still on during airplane mode.

I'm assuming it saves periodically and uploads when it acquires a connection.

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