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For Google, No Tracking Means We Still Track You

Google is so intrigued by the places users go that it continues to track their locations even after users turn off the Location History, according to findings from a recent AP investigation conducted by computer-science researchers at Princeton.

For a global conglomerate like Google, "no" doesn’t necessarily mean "no" when it comes to tracking user locations. Users do have the option to adjust their privacy settings so that location information is turned off or only on while an app like Google Maps is in use. However, when Gunes Acar, a privacy researcher at Princeton, turned off his Location History and took to the road to verify that he was not being tracked, he discovered that the privacy settings were ineffective.

The results of what the location data collected over the course of three days was compiled in a map and included “Acar’s train commute on two trips to New York and visits to The High Line park, Chelsea Market, Hell’s Kitchen, Central Park and Harlem,” according to AP.

Users have long been suspicious about actually being able to shut off Google’s location services. As it turns out, those suspicions were warranted. Acar confirmed that his travels were indeed tracked and stored, even without his consent.

“There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people’s experience, including Location History, Web and App Activity and through device-level Location Services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to the AP. “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.”

The report raises several different privacy questions, particularly when it comes to user consent of data collection. “When it comes to information privacy, we need to start asking a different set of questions, such as: What data may legitimately be collected? What are legitimate uses for data that is collected?” said Todd Shollenbarger, chief global strategist, Veridium.

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