Google’s Confusing New Location Data Settings

Google announced yesterday that it would soon begin storing users’ Maps Timeline — which uses the optional Location History toggle to produce a record of places one has visited — locally on users’ devices. It sounds like a privacy enhancement at first, but Ron Amadeo of Ars Technica read the announcement more carefully and finds this description is misleading, and the way controls are presented to users is overly complicated. (Update: Amadeo’s interpretation of this change, according to an update from Google PR in the article, was not correct. Part of the reason seems to be that Google is in the middle of rebranding Location History to Timeline. This is all still confusing to me, but in a new and different way.)

The part of me which avoids cynicism wants to believe Google is doing its best and any confusion is purely accidental. That is hard to believe, though, given how often Google has run into legal trouble over location data and, consequently, how many in-house lawyers must have reviewed this update. This kind of granular adjustment is often worse for users than grouped preferences — consider how often users are forced to individually deselect checkboxes on cookie consent forms, for example. Without strong prophylactic privacy laws, corporations like Google will continue to dazzle people into believing they have meaningful control over their privacy.