Friday, December 15, 2023

Google’s Confusing New Location Data Settings

Ron Amadeo:

Google’s misleading Location History descriptions in Google Maps have earned it several lawsuits in the US and worldwide. A quick count involves individual lawsuits in California, Arizona, Washington, a joint lawsuit in Texas, Indiana, and the District of Columbia, and another joint lawsuit across 40 additional US states. Internationally, Google has also been sued in Australia over its location settings.


Google’s big new location data change is a new, duplicate data store that will live exclusively on your device. Google’s new blog post says data for the long-running Google Maps Timeline feature will now “be saved right on your device—giving you even more control over your data.”


Cloud-based Location History will still exist and still be collected. Instead of the additional security of encrypted on-device storage, this is less secure since your data will now be in two places, or maybe multiple places, if you have multiple devices.


Update (2023-12-21): Ron Amadeo:

Google seems to be saying that Location History and Google Maps Timeline are always the same dataset and are never different. One is in the cloud, and one is going to be stored on your phone. It says that Google Maps timeline is “a visualization of your Location History data,” and that deletes in the Maps Timeline will delete data in Location History. The key thing this post got wrong is assuming that two location features—“Maps Timeline” and “Location History”—with different names and different controls in different locations, are different. Google says they are not.


The other issue I didn’t catch is that “Maps Activity” can be a pinpoint location, but it’s not necessarily a visit to that location. Instead, it could be something like a search for that location, so it’s not technically “location” data since it’s not positional.

John Gruber:

The reason these overly broad geofence warrants “almost always” were specific to Google is that Apple never collected location data that could be collected in the aggregate like this.

See also: Hacker News.

Update (2024-01-03): See also: Bruce Schneier.

3 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Article has been updated, looks like the author made a lot of bad assumptions they had to walk back. Sounds like there's a local copy of your Timeline data on your device, and an E2E encrypted backup online IF you choose to do so.

There's still a line in the updated article that says "Google is now telling people it won't be able to send location data to police, if you set up your settings so that location data is only on your phone." There is no support for the caveat that is the second half of that sentence (even if you back up online, the E2E encryption will keep Google and the police out); it seems to be a vestige of their original flawed assumptions.

I don't like Google any more than the next guy, this article is particularly shoddy.

It is hard to suss out what the caveat is and if here is one. If you already have location data on Google server do you have to wait for that to expire? If you haven’t updated the app on all your devices does it store on their server for the older ones?

This from PR the clarification doesn’t make it sound like there is not cloud storage. “One is in the cloud, and one is going to be stored on your phone.”

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