I was in Chicago this week for the Clio Cloud Conference, where I sat in horrified disbelief as keynote speaker Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, described the extent of government snooping on our digital lives. As we all know, of course, it is not just the government that is tracking us. Any number of companies are gathering data about our every click and every purchase.
In case you need a reminder of this, check out your location history on Google maps. It constantly tracks your location through your mobile phone or tablet. Above you see mine for the past week, showing my travels from Massachusetts to Chicago. Where did I go while in Chicago? I just need to zoom in to see everywhere I went during my time there. I can zoom in as close as need be for details or back out for the big picture. If I click on any of the red dots, I can see the precise time and date I was at that location.
Google says it uses your location history to help you get more out of Google. “For example,” it says, “Google Maps may use it to improve your search results based on the places that you’ve been.”
The good news is, the location history function can be turned off. The easiest way to do this is to sign in to Google and visit your own location history. Click the gear icon to go to settings, and then select “pause.”
You can also turn off location reporting through your mobile device, but only for that device. The way you do this differs according to whether you have an Android or iOS device. For Android instructions, click here; for iOS, click here. If you have multiple Google apps on your device, you may have to turn it off in each app.
Alternatively, iOS users can turn off location services completely for all apps that use location information.
The location history page shows only 30 days of your whereabouts. You can delete individual events from this history or the entire history from the location history page.
While location tracking is creepy, let me close with the obvious point for those of us who are lawyers. This data is also evidence — evidence that could be used against your client or that your client could use against others. If it is stored somewhere, it is subject to subpoena. So don’t forget that Google and Apple and the cell carrier all may have tracking data relevant to your case.