Android 101: How to stop location tracking

Android 101: How to stop location tracking

Location tracking can be very handy — it’s convenient when an app can tell you, say, where the nearby restaurants or gas stations are — but it’s also a privacy issue. Do you want all your wanderings registered by Google? Are you comfortable knowing that Mark Zuckerberg’s minions know where you are at all times? (Well, not that Mark Zuckerberg has minions, but you know what I mean.)

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to stop location tracking on your Android phone (and your Google account) and how to delete your location history from your OS and from some of the more popular apps. As always, note that versions of Android can differ, and many manufacturers use overlays as well, which can change the locations of various commands — but they should be similar enough for you to be able to find your way. For these instructions, I’ve used a Pixel 6 phone running Android 12, but I’ve included some directions for those with earlier versions of Android.

Stop Google from tracking you, period.

You probably know that Google can track your location and movements through its Google Maps app. But you may not realize that your Android phone is also tracking your movements and activities through several other built-in apps.

If you really don’t want your phone to be tracking any of your movements and activities, there is a way to turn tracking off for all (well, most) of them. You just need to be aware that you’re probably going to render many of your apps (such as ride-share apps, weather apps, and, of course, mapping apps) less usable — or in some cases, completely unusable.

Stop Google tracking using a browser

First, we’re going to stop Google from saving your data.

Go to https://myactivity.google.com/.

Under “My Google Activity” you’ll see the buttons for three types of activity: Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History. You can visit each individually by selecting the appropriate button.

A more efficient way, though, may be to go to Activity Controls, found in the left-hand menu. This page will show you all three controls on the same page; in addition, you can control ad personalization.

“Web & App Activity” covers anything you’ve done on Google apps and services. You can turn tracking off completely, or choose to keep it on but stop it from saving your history or activity when you use your Chrome browser. You can also turn off “Include audio recordings,” which determines if all your audio interactions with Google and / or Google Assistant are saved.

The other relevant category is, of course, “Location History,” which saves information about where you’ve gone with your device. Also, look for “Devices on this account” and click the down icon to the right; you’ll get a list of all the devices that you have that are currently following your location — since that may include old phones that you are no longer using, this is a good thing to check.

We might as well mention that you can also disable your “YouTube History,” which includes both your search and watch history, and “Ad personalization,” which uses your history to choose which ads you’ll see.

Okay — you’ve now prevented any more data from being gathered. But you may want to delete all or some of the information that’s already been collected.

Go back to the My Activity page and click on “Delete activity by” in the left-hand menu.

You’ll get a pop-up window that lets you delete your activity based on time period: the last hour, last day, “All time” (in other words, all dates), or “Custom range” for a specific date range.

If you choose “Custom range,” you’ll be able to choose a date range. If you choose “All time,” you can then filter that info depending on services (such as ads, Chrome, Google Play Store, etc.). When you’re ready, click on “Next.”

You’ll then get a preview of some of the activities that will be deleted. If you’re okay with that, select “Delete.”

Incidentally, if you want to make sure that nobody but you can delete your histories, then select the “Manage activity” link under each category in Activity Controls, and look for “Manage My Activity verification.” If you enable that feature, Google will ask for a password any time you want to look at or delete any history in your account.

And if you don’t want to worry about manually deleting your stuff, you can enable auto-delete in each category (you’ll see the option within each category on the Activity Controls page). You’ll have the option to automatically delete your activity after either three, 18, or 36 months.

Stop Google tracking on an Android device

Go to Settings. In the search box on top, type in “Activity controls” and tap it when it comes up.

If you have more than one Google account, select the one you want to manage.

Here, as with the browser version, you can turn off or pause the monitoring of various activities, including setting auto-delete and managing a timeline of your activity.

Turn location tracking on and off from the Quick Settings tray

If you want to be able to turn location tracking on or off as you need it, you can do that, too. One way to arrange this is to use the Quick Settings tray (which is what you see when you swipe down from the top of your screen). The tray holds a variety of icons for the most often-used Android features; there is a “Location” icon that lets you toggle the location feature on and off.

Swipe down from the top of the screen. If you’re using Android 12, you’ll see a series of bubbles for things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, flashlight, etc. If you’re using Android 11 or earlier, it will be a line of icons. Either way, that’s your Quick Settings tray. Look for the Location icon (usually, it looks like an upside-down drop of water).
Not there? With Android 12, swipe across to see more bubbles; otherwise, swipe down.

Still missing? Look for a pencil icon; on a Pixel, it will be on the bottom of the tray, but some Android interfaces will have it on top. Tap on the pencil, and the menu will open further. You can now see all the icons that are available. What you want to do is make sure the Location icon is in the easily visible part of the tray.

If your Location icon is in the bottom section, hold and drag it up to the visible group.

You’ll now be able to quickly swipe down from the top of your screen and toggle Location on and off — for example, if you want to use Google Maps for directions, you can toggle Location on, and then turn it back off when you’re finished.

If you don’t feel the need to block Google from recording all your activities, and simply want to stop the phone from recording your location, it’s easy to do — as long as you pay attention to the details:

Swipe down from the top of the screen so that you see your Quick Settings menu, and long-press on the Location icon — or swipe down, tap the Settings icon, and choose “Location.”

You’re now on the Location page. Find the “Use location” feature at the top and toggle it off.

You’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. What is meant by “Use location” in Android depends on which sensors are following the location of the device: besides GPS, it could be Wi-Fi, mobile networks, or other sensors. So before you leave this page, look a little further down. If you’re using Android 12, look for the “Location services” button, otherwise, look for the “Advanced” button and tap on that.

Either way, you’ll have several categories that you can toggle on or off. These can be (depending on your Android version and your phone’s manufacturer):

Google Emergency Location Service. This tells emergency services where you are if there’s a problem; for example, if your car goes off the road and the ambulance needs to find you. You can turn this off if you want, but read the fine print: “If ELS is off, your mobile carrier may still send device location during an emergency call.”

Google Location Accuracy. This uses Wi-Fi and other services to help pinpoint your location. If you want to turn off “Use location,” you need to make sure this is turned off as well. Any app that requires “precise location” (which I’ll explain in a bit) needs this to be turned on.

Google Location History. This leads you to a page where you can pause your device’s collection of your location history. That doesn’t get rid of what’s already been saved; there are instructions for that a little later in this article.

Google Location Sharing. If you’re sharing your location with family members or friends, you can manage it here.

Wi-Fi scanning. This lets apps and services scan for local Wi-Fi networks, even if you have Wi-Fi turned off.

Bluetooth scanning. This lets apps and services search for Bluetooth devices even if Bluetooth is off. Both this and the Wi-Fi scanning are meant to improve location features.

If you can’t see these last two, go back to the Location page and look for a “Wi-Fi and Bluetooth scanning” link.

Disable location tracking for any specific app

You can find out which apps actually use location tracking and just disable it for those that you feel don’t need it.

Go to the Location page (by long-pressing the Location icon in your Quick Settings tray).

Tap on “App permission” (or, if you’re using Android 12, look for “App location permissions”).

You’ll find here a list of all your current apps that have permission to access your location either all of the time or only while in use. Tap on any to change the permission to either allow all of the time, allow only while in use, ask every time, or deny. You can also decide whether the app will be allowed to use “precise location” — in other words, use more than GPS to determine where you are. For that, “Google Location Accuracy,” also found on the Location page.

Sometimes when you turn off permissions in the Android Settings, the app itself will continually try to get you to restore that permission. It’s irritating, but unless the app lets you say, “No, leave me alone,” you will either have to live with it or get a different app.

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