Whether you use an iPhone or Android, or whether your computer is a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, Google is likely a big part of your digital life. Unfortunately, Google has made location tracking part of that deal; the company monitors and stores huge amounts of your location data across different apps and devices. Cutting ties with this practice is possible, but more challenging than it seems.
Now, there are some Google services that rely on location information to function — Google Maps being the most obvious that comes to mind, where you aren’t going to get very far if Google isn’t allowed to know where you are. In this case, we’re less concerned with Google using our location when relevant, as we are with the company tracking and storing it when we aren’t aware it’s even happening.
Why it isn’t so obvious to disable location tracking
If you blindly dive into Google’s privacy settings, you might see something called “Location History.” Just by the name, you’d probably figure it’s the main setting controlling whether or not your location activity is stored. That’s definitely true; Google confirms that Location History saves your location data across apps and services.
When you disable Location History (and we’ll talk about how to do that), you’re stopping Google from saving much of your location information. However, it won’t stop the company from saving all of it.
There’s another privacy feature that Google uses to track your location, but one that you might not think to disable “Web & App Activity.” This setting saves data generated when you use Google sites, click on ads, and use associated apps. Among that data is your location. Here’s Google’s initial description of Web & App Activity:
Saves your activity on Google sites and apps, including associated info like location, to give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalised experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.
In an expanded info page about the setting, Google says it not only collects your location, but your IP address as well. If you have Location History disabled, it’s likely you wouldn’t have a clue Google is still tracking and storing these types of data. Yet, here we are.
How to disable “Location History” and “Web & App Activity”
To start, head over to google.com and click your profile icon in the top right. If you don’t see your profile icon, you’ll need to sign in to your Google Account first. Now, click “Manage Your Google Account.”
Here, click either “Manage your data & privacy” under Privacy & personalisation, or just click Data & privacy from the menu options at the top of the window. Scroll down, and under History settings you’ll find the two settings in question: Web & App Activity, and then Location History beneath it.
Let’s start with Web & App Activity. Click the option, then click “Turn off.” Google will present a pop-up, warning you that pausing Web & App Activity will reduce the personalisation of Google’s services. You might see less relevant search results or recommendations about places.
If all that sounds fine to you, you can click “Pause” to continue. Google should now present a “Setting is off” pop-up, that will then advise you to delete your old Web & App Activity (such a thoughtful gesture). Go ahead and click “Delete old activity,” then choose the time range for the data you’d like to delete.
You can repeat the same process for Location History. Once you click the option, and then click “Turn off,” Google will present a pop-up about how pausing Location History will affect your personalised Google experience. If you can stomach living without recommendations about places you visit, or helpful tips about your commute, go ahead and hit “Pause.”
Again, you’ll see a pop-up, asking if you want to delete your old Location History information. If you want to, click “Delete old activity.” Google will launch a Location History map, complete with pinpoints and other data about the places you’ve been with Google. You can delete this info by clicking on the trash can towards the bottom right of the screen, clicking the checkbox on the pop-up, then clicking “DELETE LOCATION HISTORY.”