How to stop Google and the police from tracking your every move

person looking at smartphone with the Google logo on the screen

Japanexperterna.se / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Your phone is watching you.

Police can now access years of data on every exact location of Android smartphone users down to the minute, thanks to Google’s Timeline feature.

Investigators are able to subpoena an enormous amount of information about a person’s past, according to a new law-enforcement report titled “Google Timelines: Location Investigations Involving Android Devices” that was obtained by the Intercept.

“The personal privacy implications are pretty clear but so are the law enforcement applications,” the document reads.

Individuals can turn off Google’s location tracking, but most don’t. We’ll show you how to do turn it off, delete, pause, and edit your tracking history.

What Google Timeline reveals

First, let’s take a look at some of the information being tracked. Here’s a July 26 trip I took to Coney Island in Brooklyn, where everything from my subway ride, my dinner at Nathan’s Famous hot dog restaurant, and then the amusement rides I went on in nearby Luna Park are tracked precisely down to the minute.

The hot dogs were delicious as usual, thanks for asking.

The hot dogs were delicious as usual, thanks for asking.

Google Timeline

 

Here’s how you can change Google’s location-tracking of your Android device, a feature that is enabled by default.

Delete

You can delete your location tracking history entirely by navigating to the Location History tab in your settings on Android phones from 2010 or newer. A clear “DELETE LOCATION HISTORY” button is available at the bottom of the first tab. You can also turn off future location tracking from being recorded here.

 

Android settings

Pause

You can pause location history on the bottom of Google Timeline’s homepage. This retains all previous information, but your new locations will not be added. Google warns that Google Maps and Google Now might function differently if they are unable to access your location data.

 

Google Timeline

Prune

You can delete, edit, and manage specific days and locations in your location tracking history. To manage a specific day’s locations, go to Google Timeline’s homepage, navigate to a specific day with the calendar in the top left, and click the three dots next to specific times and locations.

 

Google Timeline

Delete a specific day

If you want an entire day gone, that’s easy, too. From Google Timeline’s homepage, navigate to the day in the top left. Click the garbage bin. The day is gone.

 

Google Timeline

According to the law enforcement report, there’s no reason to believe that Google can or does recover tracking histories once they’ve been deleted by individuals.

Photo via Japanexperterna.se / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.