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Holy Big Brother! Google Location History: An All Knowing Function You Probably Didn’t Know You’ve Enabled

Google Location History - IT Networks - Big Brother is Watching

Technology has changed our world forever. What’s the first thing you do before you get out of bed in the morning? Chances are it has something to do with your smartphone. These items open up worlds of possibilities but they can also bring issues and privacy conflicts with them. For this month’s IT article we bring you an article from our President and CEO Jeff Borello on the intersection of instant access (google) and user privacy (location sharing) – focusing on something called: Google Location History. Without further ado . . .

Holy Big Brother

Have you ever heard of Google Location History?

Yeah, me neither.

Let me start by saying I am not a guy that cares about intrusions on my privacy.  I don’t care if the government is listening to my phone calls or reading my Emails.  I figure I am not doing anything wrong – so if they are interested in my boring life – so be it.  Especially if it helps them catch some bad guys.

Now, with that said, even I was a little freaked out when I discovered how much Google and my Google App know about my daily movements.

These days, almost everyone has a Google login and is quite often signed into their account – especially from a mobile device.

So, let’s play a little game.  Where were you on January 17th at 4pm?  You probably don’t remember, but if you have location services enabled on your device . . . Google does.

Google Location History is a comprehensive (and by that I mean every detail imaginable) history of places you have visited as tracked and logged by your smartphone’s GPS function.  Besides being comprehensive, it also has a very long memory – like years.

Give this a try to see if Google Location History is enabled on your phone.

  • From a desktop browser, go to Maps.google.com (from your phone you need to open the Google Maps App)
  • Sign in to your Google account (if you aren’t already).  Top right-hand corner will either show a Letter (first letter of your login) or a Sign In button.
  • Click the 3-bar menu in the top left corner and select “Your Timeline”
  • If you see some bar graph data there, click the bar for a given day shown from the last month.
    • How long did it take you to get to work that day?
    • Where did you have lunch?
    • Did you walk anywhere during the day?
    • Did you take any pictures?  (Yes, those might be logged in there as well)

See a screenshot below of my recent trip to Nashville.  Yep, lunch at Monell’s (great place BTW) from 12:25 to 2:06 and dinner at 9:14 at the Peg Leg Porker BBQ

Google Location History - IT Networks - IT Quick Tips

Walking, driving, flying.  It knows and records those differently.

So, the obvious question is why on earth would you want something this invasive turned on?  The answer is convenience.  As often is the case, to gain some convenience you need to give up some privacy.

It is this information that Google uses to help you throughout your day.  It will inform you of traffic issues based on your travel habits and places you may visit often.  The more information the system has on you, the more helpful an AI-powered app (Google Assistant) can be.

Okay, I have Google Location History turned on. Now what?

The good news is you do have control over this.  If you aren’t comfortable being tracked, you can turn this feature off.  From the Timeline there is an option to Pause that feature, which in effect disables it until you turn it back on.  You can also delete your entire location history as well, or just delete individual entries if you wish.

Of course, as long as the GPS is enabled on your phone, there are still plenty of apps out there that could be tracking you.  Only truly private solution is to disable the GPS completely (which probably causes you more issues than you think) or just leave your phone at home (yeah, right).

Is Google Location History too much an invasion on your privacy?  That is for you to decide but at least now you’re aware you are under the microscope.

Happy travelling.