Before we begin
You will need to install… Just kidding. Your default Android device configuration is all that is required. Whether you know it or not, if you have not taken measures to prevent it, your device has been collecting location data from your travels. This is how Google Maps works, so too your favorite running app or some of those games you play, such as Ingress.
Managing your Google Location data
There are a few aspects to what you can see and do with your location data, but first and foremost, we need to understand what data is being collected, and how it is being used. This is not a complete list, and I will not dive into the individual uses for each app or website that you may use, I will just talk about the data that Google saves for you.
Keeping it simple, your Android device reports your GPS coordinates up to your Google Account at varying intervals throughout the day. It’s a good thing we took the time to secure that account! At full bore, like if you are using Google Maps for navigation, and you have Location settings turned to full, there will be a ping as frequently as every second.
As you can see, at highway driving speeds, my Android device was collecting a GPS location about every 45 seconds on my trip to Google last year. What you also see here is how valuable your location data can be. Not only can I analyze my travels, but Google can as well, to learn that shortcut I took that saved me about 25 minutes, or estimate the travel times from Portland to Mountain View better than a best guess based on the speed limit and real time traffic info.
When you are not travelling, your location data is collected far less frequently, you can see the one or two pings per hour my devices collected during the night. Of course, with no cell connection out at my house, I rely on the WiFi, my Android device failed to recognize that I spent most of my day walking the trails and mowing some of the grass. Apparently, I never left that one spot of the house, which, granted, is where I had all my tablets and extra phones parked for the day, so it isn’t too far off.
Enough about what is collected and how it works, let’s discuss actually managing it.
View, export and delete your location history
On your PC, simply head over to location history in your Google account. Follow this link for direct access to your location history.
Once the novelty of viewing your own maps is out of your system, you’ll notice in the bottom left corner two very important options for those that wish to keep their location a secret – Delete history from this day and Delete all history.
I need not describe what each of the delete options will do for you, and there is no backup, so be sure that is what you want to do before you hit the button. If you only want to delete a few points from your day, expand the timestamps in the left menu, then click on a single timestamp and each point can be deleted from within the map.
Finally, whether you plan to delete your history or just want to bring your latest travels over to another mapping tool, Google provides an export tool, allowing you to pull your travels in KML format.
Control location history on your Android device
The benefits of your saved Google location history is hidden within the apps on your Android device. If you are a user of Google Now, you know exactly what I am talking about when you receive the suggested travel time locations and other location based cards.
When it comes to controlling your location history from your Android device, there is not a whole lot you can do from your machine. We’ve already walked through one major aspect of location history on your Android device, controlling your battery consumption by turning off location settings.
Repeating the previous tutorial in short form without the automation, head into device Settings -> Location and turn off the service from there.
The other major aspect of managing your location history on device is simply to delete your history. Hit the Location History link at the bottom of that same Location settings page on device, you can do more than just delete all of your location history for your account, you can also turn off tracking for your other connected Android devices.
It is important that you spend some time evaluating the pros and cons of the location history in your Google account. You may decide that it is not worth the personalized Google Now cards and location aware services in trade for a company knowing where you are at all times, no matter how private and secure the data is kept.
Do keep in mind that the only truly untraceable modern smartphone is one that is turned off. I just don’t want you thinking that by turning off Google location history you have disappeared from the big digital map. Google’s services are just one of many location aware services running on your device, which includes your SIM card itself; you’ve seen the cop shows, they are pretty extreme, but there is some truth to their tracking abilities – and we understand the government may be relaxing rules on law enforcement requiring a warrant to look for you.
Tin foil hats down now, there are a ton of fun and useful things you can do with your saved Google location history, I hope I proved that above showing you my drive from Portland to Google. Personally, I do a lot of highway travel, and there are a lot of alternative routes that I can take on my drives – I have saved a ton of time, fuel and headache by finding the fastest route to a destination, which isn’t always Google Maps’ suggested route, and I’ve found the best time of the day to make those drives.