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Your online activity is being tracked- helpful or hurtful?

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Are you being tracked?

If you are wearing a fitness tracker like, the FitBit, you definitely are aware that your movements are being tracked. That’s what you want. You want to know that you are meeting your daily steps quota and adding enough daily fitness to stay healthy. But when you are simply going shopping with your friends, on secret getaway vacation with your boyfriend or a private trip to the hospital for surgery, you might not be so keen to have your whereabouts recorded.

A recent Associated Press investigation revealed that Google and related apps are tracking your location via your Smartphone or iPhone, even when you tell it not to.

Your cellphone service provider knows where you are as soon as you turn on your phone because it sends a signal to the nearest tower. Just by turning on your device the IP address flags a location.

Google really wants to track your movements.

Why would anyone want to track you?

Google really wants to track our movements. They want to pinpoint your exact latitude and longitude. This data allows them to help potential advertisers target a market in a certain area. It also helps your Google searches for things like “nearby beaches”, “plumbing emergency”, or “hairdressers” be more relevant to you and where you are located.

What are the advantages for you?

Google Maps stores a history of locations you have visited, which can be helpful if you are trying to retrace your steps, or navigate in the same direction one day.  This timeline of locations visited can be very helpful.  Google is upfront about reminding you to turn on location recording, so that you are aware of this.

The data that Google collects helps you quickly locate a business or service when you search for it on Google.

What are the disadvantages of having your whereabouts tracked?

Storing data about a person when they have specifically asked to not have it done is simply wrong and an invasion of their privacy. Why provide the option to turn Location History off when it is not really the case. Basically, people don’t like being misled.

The big tech companies like Google and Facebook are being carefully scrutinized as people are becoming more increasingly concerned about their privacy.

What can you do about it?

According to Google’s support page: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”  However, in reality, that’s not the case. Once you open the Google Maps app, it will automatically store a snapshot of where you are. Many of your Google searches for just about anything like “restaurants”, “medical centre”, or “parks”, will automatically try and pinpoint your location. Weathers apps will also want to know your location.

If you are dead set against this, there are ways to control how and what apps track your location, usage history, etc. but it is a time-consuming process to go into the settings of each app and turn off any location markers.

Launch your browser on any device and go to myactivity.google.com. (You’ll need to be logged into Google) On the upper left drop-down menu, go to “Activity Controls.” Turn off both “Web & App Activity” and “Location History.” That should prevent precise location markers from being stored to your Google account.

Google will warn you that some of its services won’t work as well with these settings off. In particular, neither the Google Assistant, a digital concierge, nor the Google Home smart speaker will be particularly useful.

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