Google is watching your every move, it is recording where you are, and you may not even know it.
I’m writing this post from an airport in Portugal, and my Google Location History shows where I am right now, and everywhere I’ve been for the last 30 days:
I can see this data when I’m logged into my Google account. This information is being gathered by various Google apps whether you are actively using them or not. Google is using data from a number of sources, including GPS and publicly available WiFi connections to track your location, and as a result the data can be quite specific in terms of your location.
In the following example, on 26 February you can see me getting to the car park at 7:51. making my way over to the Nottingham Conference Centre to our exhibition stand in the Old Chemistry Theatre at 10:41, and then back into the office for 2:44.
Why does Google collect this data?
Google operates a range of location based services, which are particularly tailored to when you are working on a mobile or portable device. Whether helping me to navigate using Google Maps, localised shopping results, accurate weather information, Google is improving my user experience by knowing where I am.
It isn’t just Google, by the way, even John Lewis is tracking
John Lewis has a programme called JLAB offering 10 startup businesses a fast track to the experience and skills of their omnichannel online marketing team. Participants get mentoring, plus the chance to win £100,000 funding.
The winner last year was Localz. Localz’s technology is able to tell retailers when a particular customer walks into its stores based on a mobile phone signal. It can be used, for example, to alert click and collect staff at John Lewis to get a particular order ready because the customer picking up the goods has just walked into the store. Learn more here.
Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
I think it is pretty interesting and fun to look back and see where I’ve been. And there are useful applications for this data, for example keeping an eye on your children or the location of your sales or service teams. It can also be used to improve my real world shopping experiences and other types of services.
But the nagging is that many of us, quite simply, are unaware that this data is being collected and that it is quite personal, and very likely sensitive, data.
How to Manage Your Location Settings
Cnet have written a very useful guide to managing your location settings. Quite simply, you have a number of different options as to the amount of data, the types of data, and the specific data that you want to manage.
Google, Of Course, Recognises Privacy Concerns
In Google’s terms and conditions it states:
When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers
Whilst the tracking feature has a certain novelty value, do uou really want Google tracking where you are? It is very interesting to see that a search for “Google Location History” triggers a Knowledge Graph result showing how easy it is to turn your history on… or off.
More detailed information about managing your location history, whether on an iphone, ipad, or Android can be found here.
So, is it good, or is it evil?
Google is collecting this information in order to improve our user experience, and they do their very best to explain the data they are capturing, and they try to make it easy for us to opt out of the whole location tracking process.
The Google business model is becoming more and more dependent on “mass personalisation” and its phenomenal success is based on leveraging the vast amount of information it knows about its customers.
The issue isn’t Google, it’s how do we educate all of us mere mortals, Google’s users, to understand the privacy issues and implications, to raise awareness of both the benefits and the risks, and to ensure we are all making informed decisions managing our personal privacy online.