If you are using any Google app, it’s likely you’re being tracked. Even if you turned off location history on your Google account, you’re not completely in the clear yet. While disabling that setting sounds like a one-and-done solution, some Google apps are still storing your location data. Just opening the Google Maps app or using Google search on any platform logs your approximate location with a time stamp.
Following a 2018 investigation by the Associated Press, however, Google has made it easier to control what location and other data is saved, and what is deleted with features like Your Data in Maps and Search, which give you quick access to your location controls. You just have to know where to look.
Turning off location history only removes where you’ve been from the Google Maps Timeline feature, which logs your location with certain data at a specific time. Google’s support page on the matter says that even when turned off, “some location data may continue to be saved in other settings,” like your web and app activity. Google told us that it uses this data to make features more personalized and helpful, and that this information is never shared with third parties or advertisers. But if you still aren’t comfortable with that, with a few more steps, you can generally stop Google from knowing where you are 24/7.
Just note that turning off this default setting does have some drawbacks. While Google’s settings may seem intrusive to some, they also help cultivate an ultra-personalized online experience, such as helping people find nearby businesses instead of in another city, or seeing personalized ads. They help give users more relevant information instead of random information, according to Google.
Here’s how to really turn off Google tracking, and what the outcomes of doing so might be.
How to turn off Google’s location tracking
To completely shut down Google’s ability to log your location, here’s what to do:
1. Open up Google.com on your desktop or mobile browser.
2. At the top right, log into your Google account if you aren’t already.
3. Select Manage your Google Account.
4. In the Privacy & Personalization box, select Manage your data & personalization.
5. Scroll down to the Activity Controls, and select Manage your activity controls.
6. There you’ll see a box called Web & App Activity. From there, you can slide the toggle switch to off.
7. There will be a disclosure to ensure you understand what disabling this setting will do before you select Pause.
What does this stop Google from storing?
Turning off this setting prevents Google from storing location markers associated with specific actions and stops the storing information collected from searches or other activity. Turning it off keeps your approximate location private and other places you go — like your home address.
Note that to use certain features effectively, like the Maps app, Google will still need to access your location. However, completing the steps above prevents it from storing any of your future activity. When Google timestamps your activity within a general area, it is within a span of more than 1 square mile with typically more than 1,000 users to protect personal privacy. Google’s help page on the matter says this helps them to detect unusual activity, such as a sign-in from another city, while maintaining personal privacy.
However, you can grant Google permission to use your precise location — your exact location, like a specific address — for the best and acutely specific search results for where you are.
What are the pros and cons of turning off Google tracking?
Turning off tracking means you’ll see less relevant ads, less helpful search recommendations, and overall get a less-personalized experience using the search engine and its apps and services. For those who enjoy personalized ads, turning off tracking will prevent Google from predicting what you might care about. However, for those who prioritize privacy over everything, turning this setting off may be worth the loss of specificity.
The bottom line: You can maintain your privacy and lose the personalized internet experience, or continue to see relevant ads and search suggestions instead of more random, unfiltered information.
Will I lose any saved data if I turn off this Google setting?
No — your saved data will remain untouched. Disabling tracking will prevent Google from storing future information with a location attachment, but doesn’t delete any prior data that it gathered. To delete that location history information, follow these steps:
1. On a browser, go to Google’s main page and make sure you’re logged in. Click the profile icon in the upper right-hand corner and select Manage your Google Account.
2. Select Data & Personalization on the left-hand tool bar or select Manage your data & personalization in the box on the page. Both options will bring you to the same place.
3. Under Activity controls, select Location History.
4. Select Manage activity, and it will bring you to Google Timeline.
5. In the bottom right corner, click the settings icon immediately to the left of the Map button, and select Delete all Location History.
6. Check the box to indicate that you understand and want to delete all Location History.
7. Click Delete Location History
When you make a new Google account, Google minimizes the amount of data it collects by only keeping 18 months’ worth of Web & App Activity by default — anything older than that is deleted automatically. Google also introduced an auto-delete feature that lets you automatically delete your Web & App Activity data on a rolling basis without ever needing to do so manually.
To manually delete your Web & App Activity, follow these steps:
1. On your computer, go to myactivity.google.com.
2. Under Search your activity, click Delete.
3. Click All time.
4. Click Next, and click Delete to confirm.
For more, check out how to see if Google is tracking you, automatically delete your Google history, how much data Google collects, and how to hide where you’re going from Maps.