Google Maps and Your Privacy

Google Maps is one of the most popular GPS services on the market. Google’s location services and directions are generally accurate and up-to-date. They provide detailed maps with Google's street level view, which is great for users, but what’s the tradeoff? While Google Maps is easy to use, the service seriously invades users’ privacy.

What Google Maps Knows

Google knows a lot about its users, from your Internet history to your birthday to your favorite kinds of advertisements. Google Maps also tracks users and gathers their data. They collect your basic travel information, like your travel route and destination, as well as your method of transportation and how frequently you go to each location in order to get you the fastest route.

Furthermore, if you have Google Maps on your phone, it will go everywhere you go. Maps will have access to your location constantly.

How to Disable Tracking in Google Maps

Arguably the most invasive part of Google Maps is the level to which they track your activity and data. Google uses this data to predict where you’ll be, provide location-based ads, and more. Fortunately, disabling tracking is relatively simple.

Follow these steps to prevent Google from tracking your location data:

1. Go to Google Maps on your phone or on a laptop and select the three dashes in the corner of the location search bar. A sidebar menu will appear. Scroll down and select “Your data in Maps.”

Note: All images used in this tutorial are from the desktop version of Google Maps. However, the steps are the same for disabling tracking on mobile.

Google Maps Data

2. After selecting “Your data in Maps,” a new window should open. Scroll to “Google-wide controls.” You will see a box for Location History, which tells you the status of your location tracking and gives you the option to see and delete your activity.

Google Wide Controls

3. Select the arrow to the right by the status of your Location History.

4. On the new page, toggle off the blue switch on the right. This will pause tracking and collection of location data.

Google Maps Location History

Note: Google will first send you to a screen that details exactly what pausing your Location History means. Scroll down and hit “Pause.” This will complete the process.

How to Delete Previously Searched Destinations

Pausing your Location History keeps future data out of Google’s hands. But this won't affect your previously searched destinations. However, these, too, can be deleted with just a few extra steps.

1. Follow steps 1 and 2 for disabling Google Maps tracking.

2. In the Location History window, select “See and delete activity.”

Google Wide Controls Location History

3. Your Timeline will appear with your previously searched locations and the places you’ve recently been.

Google Maps Timeline

4. Find the trash can icon near the bottom left and select it to delete all location history. This will clear all of your Timeline data, and if you have already followed the steps to stop from tracking you, your data will now be kept significantly more private.

Google Maps Delete History

Google Maps and Your Home Address

Regardless of whether you use Google Maps or some other GPS navigational system, never put your home address in as a destination. Think about it! Thieves can access your home address and know the route to get there if your car is ultimately stolen with your GPS system inside.  Similarly, if your laptop or phone is stolen, your Google Maps and GPS apps will reveal where you live.

To avoid this danger, input an address similar to your home when routing back when using Google Maps directions. Your home city works well if you are driving from out of town, or if you aren’t as familiar with your area, put in the address of an intersection, small business, or restaurant near your home. These will get the same result as entering your home address without the risk.

GPS Search Alternatives

There are a number of alternatives to that don’t track and store your information. Available for Android, iOS and desktop, these programs offer similar services without the invasive tracking.

HERE WeGo

HERE WeGo focuses on location and navigation services. These services are offered for both desktop and mobile phones via a street view app.   It doesn’t connect your personal data to you, which keeps you more secure and off-the-grid. But the services still work well for navigation with downloadable maps and driving modes.

Sygic Maps and Navigation

Sygic Maps and Navigation is quickly rising in popularity as a global company that provides top-notch navigation services. Users get turn-by-turn instructions and can easily follow the app’s navigational blue line to their destination.

The GPS service also has an excellent data policy: they delete your personal data automatically after three months, your security and system logs after one year, and all backups for security purposes after three years. Their privacy policy states that Sygic actively deletes data that they have no use for, and data is shared only on a need-to-know basis.

OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap isn’t the most advanced GPS service—it’s made up of user contributions—but it has the basics. One of the best parts about this program is its anonymity; you don’t need to have an account or log in to use it, and collected data isn’t linked to users in any way.

Google Maps on Smartphones

The Google Maps app on smartphones slightly differs from the desktop version, but the services are the same. Users can use the Maps app to find museums, arenas, restaurants, and more; they can find travel information in real time to anywhere in the United States and beyond. Using Google Maps directions is becoming more and more popular.

To delete your location information or disable tracking from a phone, simply click on your Google account icon in the top left corner instead of the three bars in the search bar, like on desktop. Clicking the icon opens the menu through which you can access your account preferences and data. From here, you are able to delete your location information from your phone or tablet.
Google Maps smartphones
Google Maps smartphones location tracking

Be aware that if you use Google Maps on your iPhone or Android, your location can also be tracked whenever you have your phone on you.  So even if you choose to ride share and stay off of your own Google Maps app to keep your location private, Google can still find out where you are.

Conclusion

Google Maps is an incredibly convenient service. The Google street view, up-to-date traffic conditions, live traffic reports, and Google Maps directions are certainly benefits to using Google Maps on a desktop or via an app. But no matter how useful it may be, Google is still in charge, and Google does not hold back when it comes to collecting users’ information.

Consider making the switch to a more privacy-focused GPS app; if that isn’t for you, then make sure you are taking the proper precautions to keep your data and history out of Google Maps. Whether you’re setting out on your next adventure to explore world landmarks and natural wonders or just checking for directions to the nearest grocery store, your privacy matters.

It’s important to stay safe and smart when using GPS services.  With GPS services you can explore natural wonders and step into technology advancing at a rapid pace!

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