How To Stop Google From Tracking Your Location

The Neeva Team on 08/25/21

The places you go say a lot about you. If someone were to follow you, they might find out you’re an avid swimmer, say, and that you go to the pool every weekday, or that your favorite pizza spot is a few blocks from your place. Now imagine the person following you can show you ads based on where you’ve been; a sale on goggles or a new deep dish combo.

This isn’t fiction, unfortunately. If you use its devices, apps, and services, Google is following your movements and noting your whereabouts in order to serve you targeted ads online. Thankfully, there are ways you can disable or restrict Google’s location tracking.

Why does Google track your location?

Google is a tech company whose business model is primarily based on online advertising. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, generated nearly $183 billion in revenue in 2020; of that, more than 80 percent came from Google’s ads business.

The more Google knows about you, including your search history and device location, the better it can target and sell ads. And while Google likes to reassure you that it doesn't sell your data to third party advertisers, it doesn’t need to; Google’s ad clients pay for its targeting and retargeting services, not for the data itself. In the US, there are few restrictions that prevent companies like Google from harvesting location data as they please, and once your information is shared, you can’t delete it or get it back.

Tracking user activity can make certain products and services more convenient. For instance, Google uses your location to show you local search results. But Google also uses this information to make money. Your location, specifically, is crucial to discerning who you are, what you do, and what you buy or might want to buy. Google’s ‘store visits conversion’ tracking, for example, helps its advertising clients see how their ads influence physical store visits by linking your interaction with ads to your location history. In other words, Google follows your offline activity to see if their online ads work.

Let’s say you’re signed into your Google account in your web browser and you click on a Google ad for a pair of sneakers from Macy’s. A few days later, you’re downtown running errands, and you remember the shoes. You open Google Maps to get the best route to Macy’s, and you buy the shoes in the store. As long as your Google account settings allow it—that is, as long as location tracking is enabled through your Location History and Web & App Activity settings in your Google account—Google can potentially know you made an offline purchase after seeing an online ad.

Google says this feature is privacy-safe: “Store visit conversions use anonymous, aggregated statistics which are then extrapolated to represent the broader population of your consumers.” But as some cases show, the data is personal and can easily be traced back to individuals.

In 2019 The New York Times obtained a digital file with the precise locations of more than 12 million smartphones over several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was supposed to be anonymous; it wasn’t. With the help of publicly available information, The Times was able to link the information to “celebrities, Pentagon officials, and average Americans.”=

The reality is: Granular location data provides an intimate record. Knowing where an “anonymous” dot spends nights, for instance, can easily lead anyone using public records to figure out who lives there. Anonymous or not, it’s still your data, and you’re still being followed.

How does Google track your location?

Google has multiple ways to determine and track your location. If you have an Android phone, Google’s capabilities are especially advanced, since you may need to have Location Services turned on to access many useful features, such as the ability to find a lost device or receive automatic weather updates.

There are two main ways for Google to find out about your location, no matter what device you’re using:

  1. IP address. Your Internet Protocol (IP) address is a unique number identifying your device (such as a desktop computer or phone), issued by your internet service provider (ISP). IP addresses are assigned geographically, like phone number area codes, so they’re easily associated with your general location. Any website you visit (including those operated by Google) can collect your IP address.
  2. Location Services. Also known as Location Accuracy, this feature uses information such as your device’s built-in GPS, information from nearby cell towers, and wireless access point information to provide more precise location information than your IP address. Macs, PCs, iPhones, and Android devices all have some version of Location Services, allowing you to use apps and services like weather, location-based reminders, and maps. Third-party apps and websites (including those operated by Google) can ask for access to Location Services, which allows them to see your precise location.

In 2009, Google introduced a feature called Location History that provides a detailed timeline of every location you visit, including how long you spend at different locations and the exact date and time you were there, so long as you are signed in to your Google Account on that device. Since most people take their phones everywhere, Location History can provide a near-exact record of where you live, work, and hang out—and it’s even been used as evidence in criminal investigations.

How to disable or restrict Google’s location tracking

Google tracks you mostly through your Google account. By default, when you create an account or download its apps, you grant Google permission to follow you through GPS data from your mobile device. You can change some of your account settings to keep your whereabouts more private. But your location data can be derived from multiple permissions which require different settings changes. Pausing Location History is a concrete step, but there are, counterintuitively, other ways Google can track you.

A 2018 Associated Press investigation found that even if you disable Location History, Google can still record your location every time you use Google apps, watch a YouTube video, or conduct a Google search. To disable location tracking you also have to toggle off another setting in your Google Account called ‘Web & App Activity’, which is set to share your information by default, including your location and your IP address.

Here’s how to disable Google’s location tracking, depending on your device, to ensure Google isn’t tracking you from any of its apps:

On a computer

Turn off Location History and Web & App Activity

If you're signed into your Google account in your mobile browser, click this link to get to the Activity controls page in your account settings and start at Step 6. Otherwise, follow these steps to reach the Activity controls page:

  1. Open a web browser and sign into your Google account
  2. Once you’re signed in, click your account avatar in the top-right corner of the page
  3. Click Manage your Google Account in the dropdown menu
  4. Click Data & personalization in the left sidebar
  5. In the Activity controls section, click Manage your activity controls

From the Activity controls page in your Google account:

  1. Find the Web & App Activity section and click to toggle the switch off
  2. To confirm, scroll down and click Pause in the popup window
  3. Click Got it in the following popup window
  4. Back on the Activity controls page, scroll down to the Location History section and do the same: click to toggle the switch off, scroll down and click Pause in the popup window to confirm, and click Got it in the following popup window

On an iOS device

Turn off Location History and Web & App Activity

If you're signed into your Google account in your mobile browser or on the Google app, tap this link to get to the Activity controls page in your account settings and start at Step 6. Otherwise, follow these steps first:

  1. Open a web browser and sign into your Google account, or open the Google app and sign into your Google account
  2. Once you’re signed in, tap your account avatar in the top-right corner of the page
  3. Tap Manage your Google Account
  4. Tap the Data & personalization tab at the top of the page
  5. In the Activity controls section, tap Manage your activity controls

From the Activity controls page in your Google account:

  1. Find the Web & App Activity section and tap to toggle the switch off
  2. To confirm, scroll down and tap Pause
  3. Tap Got it on the following page
  4. Back on the Activity controls page, scroll down to the Location History section and do the same: tap to toggle the switch off, scroll down and tap Pause to confirm, and tap Got it on the following page

Control how certain apps track your location

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Scroll down and tap Privacy
  3. Tap Location Services at the top of the list
  4. Scroll down and select the app in question—Google Maps, for example
  5. Select if and when you’d like the app to track your location: Never, While Using, or Always

On an Android device

(The exact steps may vary slightly depending on your device.)

Turn off Location History and Web & App Activity

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap Google
  3. Tap Manage your Google Account
  4. Tap Privacy & personalization
  5. On the Activity controls page, find the Web & App Activity section and tap to toggle the switch off
  6. To confirm, scroll down and tap Pause
  7. Tap Got it on the following page
  8. Back on the Activity controls page, scroll down to the Location History section and do the same: tap to toggle the switch off, scroll down and tap Pause to confirm, and tap Got it on the following page

Control how certain apps track your location

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap Location
  3. Tap App permissions
  4. Scroll down and select the app in question—Google Maps, for example
  5. Select if and when you’d like the app to track your location: Allow all the time, Allow only while using the app, Ask every time, or Deny

Turn off your Android device’s location tracker

Google tracks your Android device’s location at all times by default. You can ensure Google isn’t tracking your location by turning off your Android device’s location tracker. (Note, this prevents every app on your device from sending or receiving location information, and causes many of its services to stop working.)

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap Location
  3. At the top of the page, tap to toggle the switch off

Delete past location data and history

If you want to leave your Location History and Web & App Activity on, you can still limit how long Google keeps your data by changing the auto-delete settings. (By default, Google deletes your web and app activity after 18 months.) From the Activity controls page in your Google account:

  1. Find the Web & App Activity section and click or tap Auto-delete (On)
  2. Under Auto-delete activity older than, select how long you want Google to retain your data: 3 months, 18 months, or 36 months
  3. Click or tap Next
  4. Click or tap Confirm
  5. Click or tap Got it on the following page
  6. Back on the Activity controls page, scroll down to the Location History section and do the same: click or tap Auto-delete (On), select how long you want Google to retain your data, click or tap Next, click or tap Confirm, and click or tap Got it on the following page

Other ways to hide your location

The steps above help restrict Google’s location tracking, but they don’t shut it down entirely. As long as you use its products and services, Google can still collect data suggestive of your location. For example, Google can still collect your IP address when you use its search engine. And because your IP address is assigned geographically, like a phone number area code, it can give a general idea of your whereabouts. Here are a couple of additional ways you can shield your data:

  • Use a VPN. Using a VPN is the best way to protect your IP address. A VPN, or virtual private network, masks your public IP address with one not tied to your internet service provider, and therefore not indicative of your location. A VPN reroutes your internet activity to a dedicated VPN server before connecting you to the internet. In other words, the internet doesn’t see your true IP address. Most good VPN services, like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, charge a small monthly fee.
  • Use an anonymous or private search engine. Anonymous search engines allow you to browse the web without collecting your data. Try DuckDuckGo, Startpage, or Qwant. Private search engines, on the other hand, may still collect some data about you, but it remains private, since they don’t share it with third parties. Neeva is a subscription-based private search engine that balances privacy with personalization by collecting some data to improve user experience, but giving the user control over their data.



Neeva is the world’s first private, ad-free search engine, committed to showing you the best result for every search. We will never sell or share your data with anyone, especially advertisers. Sign up today and try Neeva for yourself: neeva.com/signup.