How to manage your Google location history

location history android
Credit: Derek Walter

Google really is tracking your every move.

By default, an Android device records your location and compiles it into a personalized map, complete with timestamps and animation to detail all your moves throughout the day. 

As creepy as it sounds, it is actually really easy to turn this off and delete the entire location history from Google's servers. The company even offers a help page for doing so, with the obligatory caveats about differences for specific devices and versions of Android.

Looking through your location history

Before you panic and rush to erase it all, take some time to sift through the data. The location history web site can actually be fun to peruse for a retrospective of past vacations or just day-to-day errands.

maps location history

Your Google location draws a trail of the movements as recorded by your Android device.

The site includes a line graph at the bottom that breaks down—to the minute—where Google thinks you were that day. Or, you can hit a play button and watch it retrace your steps throughout the day. It is especially interesting to look back at vacations for a retrospective of where you traveled. 

The bottom of the page shows a timeline; hit the play button to see where Google thinks you progressed throughout that day, or click on a specific time to get a pinpoint location.

It stumbles if you have multiple Android devices, such as a tablet kept at home and a phone that travels with you. For example, recently my history said I kept going back and forth to my residence from another location six times within a two-hour period, even though I stayed at my appointment during that time.

You can also download data from 30 days or smaller increments into a KML file, which is used to display geographic data in Google Earth. Such personal data mining could reveal interesting insights about travel patterns when plugged into Google's services. 

Still want to delete your data? Here's how

If, after sifting through everything Google knows about your location, you may still want to erase your tracks or even turn this capability off. Note that this data is important to many of Google's services, especially Google Now. Google uses your location history to tune its recommendations to you.

The fastest way to delete your data is by following a few steps on your Android device. Head to your settings, and find the section labeled Location (getting there may vary depending on your device).

android location settings

Android's  settings compiles all the apps that have access to location data.

Then select Google Location Reporting. It will take you to another screen with two options: Location Reporting and Location History

google location settings

You can turn off location reporting and delete history in the Google location settings.

To delete your history, select the latter and and touch Delete location history at the bottom. From this screen you can also switch location history off, permanently disabling Google's ability to track you.

android location history

Turn off location tracking and delete the history right on your Android device.

Location Reporting isn't just for Maps. It authorizes other Google products to use your location, such as Google Now or Wallet. To stay incognito, turn this off and you won't get push notices from Google Wallet about nearby retailers or other shopping suggestions.

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