How to stop Google Maps from tracking your every move

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This is how to disable location tracking in Google Maps.
Image: Cody DeBos / The Burn-In

Did you know that Google Maps has a feature that tracks and logs everywhere you go? If not, you aren’t alone. Millions of directionally challenged people use Google’s free GPS map service to get around whether they’re traveling by car or by foot. However, every time you fire up the Maps app for some directions, it is tracking your movements.

This isn’t just general location data either. It keeps a record of where you’ve been down to the minute in eerie detail. For many users, this information dates back several years to when they first started using the app. Once collected, the data is stored on Google’s servers.

Of course, that is problematic considering that we live in a world of near-constant data breaches and scandals.

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Fortunately, Google has a tool to let you not only delete your location data automatically but also stop it from tracking you altogether. This article will walk you through exactly how to do both of these things in a few easy steps so you can get back to your GPS-guided adventures in no time.

How to Delete Google Maps Location Tracking Data

The feature that allows Google Maps to track where you’ve been has existed for a while. Just recently, specifically in summer 2019, the company announced a feature that lets you control how long that data is kept around. Better yet, you can use the tool to delete your location tracking data automatically.

Here’s how you do it:

Finding the settings menu to delete your data is perhaps the trickiest part. It isn’t located on the main Google Account settings page. Rather, you’ll need to go through the settings feature within the Google Maps app. To get there, tap the menu bar on the top corner (right or left depending on your device) of the app.

Select “Your Timeline” from the options that are listed. This takes you to a page that lists out where you’ve been in the last 24 hours. Once there, tap the three-dot menu in the top-right portion of the screen. In the pop-up menu select “Settings and Privacy.”

As you scroll down you’ll notice several options regarding your location history. The first allows you to delete all location data that Google Maps has collected on you. The second allows you to delete location data collected within a certain range of time. To automatically delete data you’ll want to select “Automatically Delete Location History.”

Here you can choose to retain data until it is deleted manually, for 18 months, or for three months. I’ll explain why you might want to keep the data for a few months below. Once you choose an option, Google will automatically wipe location data from its servers when it falls out of your selected time range.

How to Disable Google Maps Location Tracking

If you’d rather not worry about having data collected at all, that’s okay too. Google gives you the ability to opt-out of location tracking across its suite of services. While this is the best way to secure your privacy, it may cause some Google features not to work correctly. For example, Maps won’t be able to provide personal results and search suggestions won’t be tailored to your location.

If you still want to disable location data tracking, follow the steps below:

First, repeat the previous sequence of steps until you are inside the “Settings and Privacy” menu (the same place you deleted tracked location data from). Above the options to wipe old data, there is another one that will read “Web & App Activity is on” by default. If you haven’t ever tweaked your privacy settings within Maps then this will be the case.

You’ll need to tap on that option to continue. Inside, there is a toggle slider to turn “Web & App Activity” on and off. Though it probably goes without saying, toggling the slider to “Off” will disable location tracking across Google’s suite of services.

Why Does Google Maps Track Location Data?

On first glance, it seems a little creepy that Google is tracking such specific data about where you’re going and where you’ve been. There’s no denying the fact that it is overbearing. However, there is a reason for it.

Google says that it tracks your location through its apps to provide “Better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.”

That’s true. Google Maps users may be familiar with the fact that they can create personalized locations like “Home” and “Work” based on where they go frequently. Likewise, Maps uses tracking data to provide better arrival time estimates and predict the route you’re most likely to take.

On the Search side, location data lets Google display more accurate results based on your location. For example, it will curate a list of restaurants near your current location rather than those you may visit while you’re on a lunch break at work.

These are all really useful features for some people. However, others will view them as not worth the cost of having your location tracked at every turn. Choosing to enable or disable them should come down to what you value more—privacy or convenience.

A well-balanced approach may include allowing location tracking but having it automatically deleted after three months. This will allow you to get personalized results while not having a multi-year record of everywhere you’ve been stored on Google’s servers.

Privacy Checkup

Though it does collect a tremendous amount of data, Google also does a good job of putting you in control of it. After you customize the location tracking in Maps, you should head over to Google’s Privacy Checkup tool.

Here, you’ll be able to personalize every aspect of how Google gathers data on you. This includes things like location data, audio recordings (yes, your Google Assistant collects those too), and basic things like your browsing history.

It’s a great idea to do a brief Privacy Checkup every few months to know that you are in control of your data and your privacy.

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