Earlier this week, the AP reported that Google continues to collect user location data even when user Location History is turned off. In response, Google initially said that the company was being clear and not hiding anything or misleading consumers: “[W]e continue to use location to improve the Google experience when they do things like perform a Google search or use Google for driving directions.”
While that was all technically true, the company wasn’t being clear enough. So, according to an update from the AP this afternoon, Google has now changed some of the text on a page explaining how to “manage or delete” Location History. The new language reads:
This setting does not affect other location services on your device, like Google Location Services and Find My Device. Some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps. When you turn off Location History for your Google Account, it’s off for all devices associated with that Google Account.
The old language implied that if Location History was turned off, location would no longer be recorded on the device.
I don’t believe that Google was being deceptive in its previous notifications and discussions of location, but it wasn’t sufficiently clear about what was going on and that Location History isn’t a global control over location data on the device.
If people trust that their data are protected and not being improperly exploited, they’re probably going to be OK with what Google does, provided they understand what’s happening. Communication and transparency are key to trust. And consumer trust is a key to success.
Given the data scandals and controversies, we’re now in an environment of paranoia and suspicion, in which earning consumer trust is getting harder. Clear, straightforward disclosures and communication are critical. So it’s positive that Google made this change, even if it was prompted by the AP.
The company must still go further and ensure that regular folks really get what’s going on with their data, so that usage is truly consensual and there aren’t things happening in the background that they don’t know about or understand.