Google Still Preserves Records of Sensitive Location Searches

Johana Bhuiyan, the Guardian:

The tech advocacy group Accountable Tech conducted an experiment in August and October to test Google’s pledge. Using a brand new Android device, researchers with the group analyzed their Google activity timeline, where the company shows what information is logged about an account holder’s actions. This activity helps make Google’s services “more useful” to users, according to the company – for instance, by “helping you rediscover the things that you’ve searched for, read and watched”. However, any information collected by Google is potentially subject to law enforcement requests, including the data logged in “My Activity”.

The group found that searches for directions to abortion clinics on Google Maps, as well as the routes taken to visit two Planned Parenthood locations, were stored in their Google activity timeline for weeks after it occurred. At the time of this article’s publication, the information was still stored and available at

Not exactly surprising but still worrisome. In a narrower scope, it points to Google’s confusing mess of privacy settings, in which it treats location privacy as separate from searches and directions in Google Maps. The best thing you can do right now, regardless of who you are or what you think you will search for in the future, is to turn off Web and App Activity.

If you widen the scope, though, it is obvious such controls should not be left up to individual users to figure out, nor should it the decision of specific data brokers whether to retain or flush sensitive information. This is a systemic issue that requires a systemic legislative response.