Location tracking can be very handy — it’s convenient when an app can tell you, say, where the nearby restaurants or gas stations are — but it’s also a privacy issue (something that at least one of Google’s competitors has used in its sales pitch).
You probably know that Google can track your location and movements through its Google Maps app. But you may not realize that your Android phone is also tracking your movements and activities through several other built-in apps.
If you really don’t want your phone to be tracking any of your movements and activities, there is a way to turn tracking off for all (well, most) of them. You just need to be aware that you’re probably going to render many of your apps (such as rideshare apps, weather apps, and, of course, mapping apps) less usable — or in some cases, completely unusable.
In this article, I’ll take a look at how to stop location tracking and how to delete your location history. I’ll give directions for a desktop (in this case, using Google’s Chrome browser) and an Android phone. As always, note that versions of Android can differ. For these instructions, I’ve used a Pixel 6 phone running Android 14 and a Samsung Galaxy S23 running Android 14 and One UI 6.0.
Stop Google tracking using a browser
First, we’re going to stop Google from saving your data.
- Go to https://myactivity.google.com/. (This is easier on a desktop.)
- Under My Google Activity you’ll see the buttons for three types of activity: Web & App Activity, Location History, and YouTube History. You can visit each individually by selecting the appropriate button.
- A more efficient way, though, may be to go to Activity Controls, found in the left-hand menu. This page will show you all three controls on the same page; in addition, you can control ad personalization.
- Web & App Activity covers anything you’ve done on Google apps and services. You can turn tracking off completely or choose to keep it on, but stop it from saving your history or activity when you use your Chrome browser. You can also turn off Include voice and audio activity, which determines if all your audio interactions with Google and / or Google Assistant are saved.
- The other relevant category is, of course, Location History, which saves information about where you’ve gone with your device. Also, look for Devices on this account and click the down icon to the right; you’ll get a list of all the devices that you have that are currently following your location — since that may include old phones that you are no longer using, this is a good thing to check.
- We might as well mention that you can also disable your YouTube History, which includes both your search and watch history, and Personalized Ads, which uses your history to choose which ads you’ll see.
Okay, you’ve now prevented any more data from being gathered. But you may want to delete all or some of the information that’s already been collected.
- Go back to the My Google Activity page and click on Delete activity by in the left-hand menu.
- You’ll get a pop-up window that lets you delete your activity based on time period: Last hour, Last day, All time (in other words, all dates), or Custom range for a specific date range.
- If you choose Custom range, you’ll be able to choose a date range. If you choose All time, you can then filter that info depending on services (such as ads, Chrome, Google Play Store, etc.). When you’re ready, click on Next.
- You’ll then get a preview of some of the activities that will be deleted. If you’re okay with that, select Delete.
Incidentally, if you want to make sure that nobody but you can delete your histories, then select the Manage all Web & App Activity link under Activity Controls, and look for Manage My Activity verification. If you enable that feature, Google will ask for a password any time you want to look at or delete any history in your account.
And if you don’t want to worry about manually deleting your stuff, you can enable auto-delete in each category (you’ll see the option within each category on the Activity Controls page). You’ll have the option to automatically delete your activity after either three, 18, or 36 months.
Stop Google tracking on an Android device
- On either a Google Pixel or a Samsung Galaxy, go to Settings. In the search box on top, type in Activity controls and tap it when it comes up.
- If you’re using a Galaxy, you may find yourself on the More privacy settings page. Look for Activity controls and tap it. From here on, the directions are the same for both phones.
- If you have more than one Google account, select the one you want to manage.
- Here, as with the browser version, you can turn off or pause the monitoring of various activities, including setting auto-delete and managing a timeline of your activity.
Turn location tracking on and off from Quick Settings
If you want to be able to turn location tracking on or off as you need it, you can do that, too. One way to arrange this is to use the Quick Settings (which is what you see when you swipe down from the top of your screen). The tray (if you’re using a Pixel) or panel (if you’re using a Galaxy) holds a variety of icons for the most often-used Android features. In this case, we’re most interested in a Location icon that lets you toggle the location feature on and off.
- Swipe down twice from the top of the screen. You’ll see a series of buttons for things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, flashlight, etc. Look for the Location button.
- Not there? Swipe across to see more buttons to make sure it isn’t there.
- Still missing? Look for a pencil icon; on a Pixel, it will be on the bottom of the screen, the Samsung will have it on top. Tap on the pencil.
- If you’re using a Pixel, the menu will open further. You can now see all the icons that are available. What you want to do is make sure the Location icon is in the easily visible part of the tray. Look for your Location icon in the bottom section, then hold and drag it up to the visible group.
- If you’re using a Galaxy, tap Edit under either the Top or Full representatives of a phone (I’d choose Full, since that gives you more space to place your icon). At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see Available buttons. Tap the Location button in order to bring it to the top. Tap and hold it to move it to the position you want it to be in.
You’ll now be able to quickly swipe down from the top of your screen and toggle Location on and off — for example, if you want to use Google Maps for directions, you can toggle Location on, and then turn it back off when you’re finished.
Stop location tracking on Android devices
If you don’t feel the need to block Google from recording all your activities, and simply want to stop the phone from recording your location, it’s easy to do — as long as you pay attention to the details:
- Swipe down from the top of the screen so that you see your Quick Settings menu, and long-press on the Location icon — or swipe down, tap the Settings icon, and choose Location.
- You’re now on the Location page. If you’re using a Pixel, toggle off the Use location feature at the top. If you’re using a Galaxy, toggle the feature from On to Off.
You’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. What is meant by Use location in Android depends on which sensors are following the location of the device: besides GPS, it could be Wi-Fi, mobile networks, or other sensors. So before you leave this page, look a little further down for the Location services button and tap on that.
You’ll have several categories that you can toggle on or off. These can be (depending on your Android version and your phone’s manufacturer):
- Earthquake alerts. ‘nuff said.
- Emergency Location Service. This tells emergency services where you are if there’s a problem; for example, if your car goes off the road and the ambulance needs to find you. You can turn this off if you want, but read the fine print: “If Emergency Location Service is off, your mobile carrier may still send your device’s location during an emergency call.”
- Google Location Accuracy. This uses Wi-Fi and other services to help pinpoint your location. If you want to turn off Use location, you need to make sure this is turned off as well. Any app that requires “precise location” (which I’ll explain in a bit) needs this to be turned on.
- Google Location History. This leads you to the Activity controls page, but just for your location history (again, if you have more than one Google account, you’ll be asked to choose which one you want to pause). Tap the button labeled Turn off, and you have the choice of either just turning off location history or turning it off and deleting your existing history.
- Google Location Sharing. If you’re sharing your location with family members or friends, you can manage it here.
- Wi-Fi scanning. This lets apps and services scan for local Wi-Fi networks, even if you have Wi-Fi turned off.
- Bluetooth scanning. This lets apps and services search for Bluetooth devices even if Bluetooth is off. Both this and the Wi-Fi scanning are meant to improve location features.
Disable location tracking for a specific app on your phone
You can find out which apps actually use location tracking and just disable it for those that you feel don’t need it.
- Go to the Location page (by long-pressing the Location icon in your Quick Settings tray).
- Tap on App location permissions (for a Pixel) or App permissions (for a Galaxy).
- You’ll find here a list of all your current apps that have permission to access your location either all of the time or only while in use. Tap on any to change the permission. The list may vary, but for the most part, they can include allow all of the time, allow only while using the app, ask every time, or don’t allow. You can also decide whether the app will be allowed to Use precise location — in other words, use more than GPS to determine where you are.
Sometimes when you turn off permissions in the settings, the app itself will continually try to get you to restore that permission. It’s irritating, but unless the app lets you say, “No, leave me alone,” you will either have to live with it or get a different app.
Delete your location history using Google Maps
While you can delete location history collected for your Google timeline in the My Activity area (see above), you can also get rid of it easily in Google Maps.
Using your Android phone
- Go to your Google Maps app.
- Tap on your profile icon in the upper right corner.
- Tap on your Timeline.
- Select the three dots in the upper right corner. Tap on Settings and Privacy.
- Scroll down to Delete all Location History. You’ll get a pop-up window that asks you to check a box saying that you understand that some of your apps may not work properly. Check the box and select Delete.
- You also have the option of deleting your location history within a date range or setting the app to automatically delete your location history after three, 18, or 36 months.
On a browser
- Go to https://www.google.com/maps.
- Tap on the three parallel lines in the upper left corner of the side panel. (If you don’t see the panel, look for the small arrow in the upper left corner and click on it.) Select Your Timeline.
- Look for the gear icon on the lower right side of the screen. Click on it, and then on Delete all Location History. You can also set the automatic deletion feature here.
- As with the mobile app, you’ll get a pop-up window that asks you to check a box saying that you understand that some of your apps may not work properly. Check the box and select Delete Location History.
Update January 30th, 2024 1:52PM ET: This article was originally published on April 12th, 2019; it has been updated to include directions for Android 14 and directions for the Facebook and Twitter apps have been removed.