Where you go, Google goes. Google Maps in particular keeps track of every step you (and your smartphone) take and archives that activity in your Google Timeline. It might seem like a walk down memory lane, but it can also leave the door to your privacy wide open.
With Timeline, Google Maps can show you where you’re going and where you’ve been. There might even be photographic
If you’d prefer to keep your whereabouts private without ditching Google, you can remove your location history and tell it to stop following you. Here’s how.
There are a few things you can do regardless of which device you have and which Google service you’re using. On myaccount.google.com, you can check your security and privacy settings and do a deep dive into your account activity in order to take control over what Google tracks about you.
On the Data & personalization section of your Google Account dashboard, you can play with your activity controls and disable what data Google can track and collect from you. These activities include web and app activity, location history, device information, Google Assistant and Google Home data, and YouTube search and watch history. In order to stop the tracking of any of this data, click on the title and toggle the switch to stop Google from tracking it.
Switching off Web & App Activity and Location History will stop Google from storing your precise locations on your account. However, it doesn’t do anything for what’s already been saved. You will have to do that by going to myactivity.google.com and Google Timeline separately.
On the My Activity page, you can go through all the activity Google has saved, including apps used and purchased, searches conducted, and websites visited.
Click the three-dot icon next to an entry to open the option to delete.
You also have the option of deleting all data between a certain dates. The page’s sidebar menu has an option called Delete activity by, which allows you to select a custom time period for data deletion.
Google has recently made it so that activity data can be automatically deleted after a certain period of time. Set this up from the activity controls menu in the Google Account dashboard. Under the listing for Web & App Activity click Manage Activity > Choose to delete automatically. By default, Google keeps this data until you delete it manually, but here, you can change the timeframe to keep data for 18 months or three months.
When you set this up, Google will show you exactly what will be removed. Click Confirm to set it and make sure that any information outside your preferred range is immediately deleted.
Google will only collect for your timeline if you have location services turned on. On iOS, it’ll only populate timeline with all your activity if you have Google Maps set to always collect location data (Settings > Google Maps > Location > Always).
To delete your location data on mobile, tap the hamburger menu () on the top-left and select Your timeline. Here you can see what Google has collected about you; tap the calendar icon on the top-right to jump to a specific date.
If you want to remove individual items or days, you can do that manually. On mobile, tap the three-dot icon and select Delete day. To get rid of just one thing, tap it, select the trash can icon on the top-right, and confirm deletion.
For desktop, tap the hamburger menu () on the top-left and select Your timeline. Google Maps will display the day’s activities, but you can also choose a specific date from the drop-down menus. Individual entries can be removed by clicking the three-dot icon and selecting Remove from my day.
From desktop, all location data can be deleted by clicking the gear icon on the bottom-right and selecting Delete all Location History. Delete the entire day by simply tapping the trash can icon.
Even outside of Google’s dashboards and timelines, Android users can better control location tracking right from their phone. Open Settings > Google > Location and turn off Use Location. Be advised that many of your phone’s apps and services will be less useful without location services, though.
This page can also be used to tweak some settings to better control how Google pings your phone and collects data. Tap Improve accuracy on Samsung devices, and you can turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth scanning. This is used to improve location accuracy but also pinpoints your exact location.
Under Location services, select Google Location Accuracy and you can remove all other manner of tracking location, other than GPS. Changing this will affect Google Maps and Find My Device, but will ensure that Google cannot ping your exact location when you aren’t trying to figure out where you are.
Like Android devices, iPhones and iPads can have their locaton services shut off completely by going to Settings > Privacy > Location Services and toggling the switch. This will, of course, cause many of the services on your phone to stop working. However, you can take control of individual apps by setting when they can access location services.
Select an app on the Location Services page, including those offered by Google, and determine when they can track you. Select never to disable location services entirely for that app, or choose While Using so that it only tracks your location when you are actually using it, instead of also when it’s on in the background.
If all this sounds like too much work to keep your desktop Google-free, or you don’t feel like disabling a majority of the features on your phone, you might want to try a VPN instead. By setting one up you can keep your activity and data private. If you’re specifically looking for one that works on your phone, there are many options for both iOS and Android.