Your smartphone tracks your location constantly, and if you use Google services on it, Google keeps a log of that information. That can deliver useful features -- directions to your destination, the weather where you are right now -- but that thought does freak some people out. If it makes you uncomfortable, here's how to opt-out.
Earlier this week, TechCrunch wrote about Google's Location History, which shows you where you were at any point in the day, on any given day, according to Google's location data. The tool isn't new -- Google introduced it back when it still offered its Latitude tool. Even though Latitude is long gone, the tracking tool lives on.
The tool is entirely opt-in. When you set up a new Android device, or install any Google app on your iOS device, you're prompted to share location data. If you say yes, your information goes into this database. This is also the database which apps such as Google Now look at to tell you what the weather is where you are, bring up your boarding pass when you arrive at the airport, or display currency and language conversion cards when you land in a foreign country.
That can be very useful. However, if it does unsettle you that there's this much information about your movements on a day to day basis sitting in a database, it's easy to turn off:
If You're On Android
If you're an Android user, Google's location services is broken into two features: Location Reportin and Location History. Here's how they work:
- Location Reporting is the feature that gives apps like Google Now, Google Maps, Foursquare, Twitter, and even your camera app access to your position. Whenever an app shows you something nearby, suggests local businesses, or helps you find the closest petrol station, it's using Location Reporting.
- Location History is the feature that keeps track of where you've been, and any addresses you type in or navigate to. For example, it's how Google figures out where "Home" and "Work" are so Google Now can estimate your commuting time or give you traffic information for those places. Turning it off will still give you traffic information, but it means Google won't try to guess where you're going based on your previous searches.
To disable location reporting or history in Android:
- Open the App Drawer and go to Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Location.
- Scroll down and tap Google Location Settings.
- Tap Location Reporting and Location History, and switch the slider to off for each one.
- To delete your phone's location cache, tap "Delete Location History" at the bottom of the screen under Location History.
- Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device.
Google makes the process fairly easy and transparent. The downside is that apps like Google Maps and any other Google service that makes use of your location data either won't work at all, or will prompt you every time they want access to your position. If you enjoy location services but don't want everywhere you go dumped into this database, just disable Location History and leave Location Reporting enabled.
If You're On iOS:
The process is slightly more complicated for iOS users. While iOS gives you more control on a per-app basis over who can see your position and when, you don't get as much control over the actual database. You can turn off Google's access to your location data, but you can't wipe its history from your device (that has to be done online via a browser). First, you have to turn off access to location services on your iPhone or iPad.
To disable location services in iOS:
- Open the Settings App.
- Scroll down to Privacy, and select Location Services.
- Disable all Location Services by swiping the slider at the top, or scroll down to disable location services for specific apps, including Google and Google Maps.
- Select System Services to deny location data from specific features: from your can disable location-based advertisements, turn off Frequent Locations, or disable the "Popular Near Me" feature.
Apple makes the process easy here. There's a knowledge base article on the topic if you need to read more, or if you're running an earlier version of iOS. Again, if you disable these features, they'll prompt you every time they want location information, or they just won't work at all.
To Clear Google's Database on the Web
Once you've turned everything off on your device, you can empty Google's database of your location from the location history page we mentioned earlier. Click on the current day, and click "Delete all history" in the left sidebar. If you prefer, you can delete location history from specific days -- just select the day in question and click "Delete history from this day".
That's all there is to the main process. Clearing any logged data on your phone is a bit more complicated than just toggling location services. We have a guide on how to do it, but keep in mind that your Android phone will probably have to be rooted (assuming you don't see "Delete Location History" in the Google Location Settings above), and your iOS device will probably have to be jailbroken for you to do it.
Let's be clear: location services are really useful, and drive a lot of our favourite apps. Before you disable those features, make sure you're not relying on them. Consider whether or not the apps and services you use are valuable enough to you that the information you give up is an acceptable trade. If they are, leave those features on.