The latest buzz about Google’s Location History page has been giving tech users the heebie jeebies. There is a special page on Google Maps that allow you to review your location history for the last 30 days, if you’ve had the tracking feature enabled on your mobile phone. Commentary at Junkee draws comparisons between the Location History feature and the retina scanning practices featured in Minority Report, just to illustrate how incredibly creepy this constant location tracking really is. It’s no surprise that users are wary of Google’s Location Reporting and Location History features – in a post-Snowden era, digital consumers have become increasingly aware of online privacy.
The Problem with Opt-In Features
Google points out that users can control their Location Reporting and History features through their settings menu. These switch toggles allow you to easily opt-in and opt-out of these tracking features. But how many of us actually review all of our mobile privacy settings? Many users are surprised to dig through their settings, only to find that Google has cataloged their movements since the initial phone setup. So how did you phone get enrolled in the first place?
Like most data reporting settings, Google prompts Android users with this option during the initial setup of a mobile device. However, it’s easy to imagine that users will hastily agree to these terms without completely understanding what the Location History and Reporting entails. It can be extremely unnerving to discover that Google’s got a cache of your device locations. This can be even more problematic if you share a Google account with groups at work or at home. Do you really want your supervisor knowing where you go at night after clocking out, just because you accidentally accepted location settings?
Google Maps, the Data Hog
In addition to these stunning privacy concerns, users also have to worry about the continuous data use of Location History and Reporting Features. Google’s support webpage explicitly notes that these services “can potentially use a lot of data.” This can be sad wakeup call for users who respectively discover that this feature has been on since their phone or tablet setup. If you notice that your cellular payments are inexplicably rising, you might want to dig around in your mobile settings to see if Google’s location tracking settings are actually the culprit.
Yes, it’s easy to understand why users would be uneasy about having their movement stored on Google servers. Who would want to use these features? Well, some individuals and organizations can use these features for very practical reasons, such as:
- tracking lost or stolen devices
- monitoring effective transit routes
- acquiring time-stamped locations during legal proceedings
- cataloging destination addresses
- tracking miles traveled for expense reporting
It’s important to keep consent in mind – these features are put to the best use when users are fully aware that their devices are being tracked and why. The buzz surrounding Google Maps settings reveals that these features are a double-edged sword. While they can be extremely invasive, location histories can also be used for very practical tasks.