Google Adds New Option to 'Auto-Delete' Your Location History and Activity Data

google web activity and location history

Google is giving you more control over how long you want the tech company to hold on to your location history and web activity data.

Google has introduced a new, easier, privacy-focused auto-delete feature for your Google account that will allow you to automatically delete your Location History and Web and App Activity data after a set period of time.

Google’s Location History feature, if enabled, allows the company to track locations that you have visited, while Web and App Activity tracks websites you have visited and apps you have used.

Until now, Google allowed you to either altogether disable the Location History and Web and App Activity feature or manually delete all or part of that data, providing no controls for regular deletion so that users can manage their data efficiently.

However, an AP investigation last year revealed that even if you turn off the Location History feature in all your accounts, Google services on Android and iPhone devices continue to track your movements.

Just last month, it was also revealed that Google maintains a database containing detailed location records from hundreds of millions of phones around the world, called Sensorvault, that’s reportedly being used by law enforcement agencies to solve crime cases.

Following the revelation, U.S. Congress last week asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai to issue a briefing by May 10 on a series of questions on how the Sensorvault database is used and shared by the company.

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After concerns and feedback from users over their data, Google introduced the new auto-delete feature, allowing users to now select how long they want their location and web activity data to be saved on the company’s servers by providing them to choose between three options:

  1. Keep until I delete manually
  2. Keep for 18 months then delete automatically
  3. Keep for 3 months then delete automatically

Here’s How You Can Enable Auto-Delete Option

Though the option is not available yet, the GIF shared by Google describes the step-by-step process to activate the auto-delete feature:

  1. Visit Google homepage and tap on your profile picture in the upper-right corner
  2. Click on the Google Account button.
  3. Select the Data & Personalization tab and click Web & App activity
  4. Select “Choose to delete automatically.”
  5. Choose between “Keep until I delete manually,” “Keep for 18 months,” and “Keep for 3 months” options
  6. Click Next and confirm your choice

With these settings enabled, the search engine giant will regularly clear out every bit of the location history and web activity data Google holds on you every three months or every 18 months as per your choice.

For users who don’t want the company ever to track their location or web and app history can simply turn off their “Location History” and “Web and App Activity” settings.

According to Google, the auto-delete feature for Location History and Web & App Activity will be rolling out “in the coming weeks.”

Facebook last year announced a similar privacy feature called Clear History, allowing users to delete cookies and history ‘associated with your account’ manually. The feature has been delayed and is now expected to launch this fall.

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Google faces surge in police requests for mobile location data


Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s clearer than ever that police see smartphones as treasure troves of evidence. New York Times sources understand that law enforcement requests for information from Google’s mobile Location History database, known internally as Sensorvault, have “risen sharply” in the last six months. While the exact volume isn’t apparent, there have been “as many as 180 requests” in a single week. In some cases, the demands are particularly broad and may scoop up data from “hundreds” of phones, albeit with limits.

Many of these requests come from relatively new “geofence” warrants that asks Google to hand over location info for every device that passed through a given area over a certain period of time. Google anonymizes the data at first, but it will provide names and other sensitive info if police believe it matches the behavior of a suspect or witness.

Location History’s existence isn’t a secret. It’s been available since 2009, and you have to grant permission before Google starts collecting data. However, people don’t necessarily realize that Google keeps the info for an indefinite period, or that the history is detailed enough to provide a picture of street-by-street movements to investigators.

More importantly, there are legal and technical concerns to law enforcement’s increasing dependence on Location History. The Fourth Amendment requires limited searches and probable cause, but there hasn’t been a formal ruling on whether or not geofenced searches meet that standard even with the narrowing process Google uses. Not every police department will properly seal identifying data, either, potentially exposing innocent people.

And then there’s the unreliability of the info — it only confirms that a phone using someone’s Google account was in the area, not that the person was present. It’s not very useful for iPhone owners, either, since only some use Google Maps and are less likely to have it running in any capacity. While the location data could help cops solve tough-to-crack cases, it could also pin the blame on the wrong people.

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How to Stop Facebook App From Tracking Your Location In the Background

facebook location history background

Every app installed on your smartphone with permission to access location service “can” continually collect your real-time location secretly, even in the background when you do not use them.

Do you know? — Installing the Facebook app on your Android and iOS smartphones automatically gives the social media company your rightful consent to collect the history of your precise location.

If you are not aware, there is a setting called “Location History” in your Facebook app that comes enabled by default, allowing the company to track your every movement even when you are not using the social media app.

So, every time you turn ON location service/GPS setting on your smartphone, let’s say for using Uber app or Google Maps, Facebook starts tracking your location.

Users can manually turn Facebook’s Location History option OFF from the app settings to completely prevent Facebook from collecting your location data, even when the app is in use.

However, unfortunately, disabling Location History would also break some Facebook features that rely on location data like checking into a nearby location, tagging locations in an uploaded photo or while using Nearby Friends, a feature that lets friends share their locations with each other.

facebook location history background

When talking about iOS, Apple offers its users more control over such situations at device level where users don’t want to completely stop an app from using location, allowing them to choose if an app can also access location data in the background or not.

However, people using Facebook on Android have an all-or-nothing option when it comes to location sharing, which means either they have to grant Facebook full access to their location data or completely prevent the social network from seeing your location at all, without any option for accessing your location data only when the app is open.

How to Stop Facebook From Tracking You When Not in Use

Facebook has finally changed this behavior by introducing a new privacy setting to its Android app, giving users more explicit, granular control over background collection of their location data.

Here’s how you can prevent Facebook from tracking your location when the app is not in use:

  • Open the Facebook app on your Android smartphone
  • Go to the Settings menu on the top right corner (looks like this ☰)
  • Tap on Settings & Privacy
  • Choose Privacy Shortcuts
  • Select Manage your location settings
  • Now, toggle “Background Location” to OFF

If you enable this setting, two things will happen—”you would share your location when you weren’t using the app, and you would allow Facebook to store a history of your precise locations.”

“We’re not making any changes to the choices you’ve previously made nor are we collecting any new information as a result of this update,” Facebook’s post reads.

“For people who previously chose to turn their Location History setting ‘on,’ the new background location setting is ‘on.’ For people who had turned Location History ‘off’ – or never turned it on in the first place – the new background location setting is ‘off.'”

With this update, Facebook gives users a dedicated way to choose whether or not to share their location when they are not using the social media app.

iOS users need not worry about such features, as Apple already offers iPhone users an option to block an app from using their location in the background when the app is not open.

If you are an iPhone user and have not already stop Facebook—or any other app—from tracking your location in the background, you can follow these simple steps:

  • Go to Settings
  • Select Privacy
  • Choose “Location Services”
  • If you want to completely stop all apps from tracking you, turn Location Services off. If you want to limit this setting depending on every app, tap each app and choose “Never” or “While Using.”

Make sure apps that don’t require your location, like most games, photo sharing apps and editors, are set to “Never.”

Meanwhile, Facebook is also sending out alerts to both Android and iOS users, asking them to review their location settings.

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Apps You Use Every Day Are Tracking Your Every Move, According to Very Creepy Report

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While you probably already know enabling location services for third-party apps might compromise your privacy, an investigative New York Times report details just how creepy and personal smartphone location data can be.

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