Study from Vanderbilt professor finds Google tracking is even creepier than you thought

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Maybe Google’s motto all this time should have been “Don’t be creepy” instead of not being evil. Maybe that would have produced a different reality from the one presented in a new study from a Vanderbilt professor, released today, which shows that Google’s tracking of users is probably a lot worse and creepier than the average person likely releases.

For one thing, the study that was commissioned by the trade group Digital Content Next walks through “passive” data-collection done by Google often without the user’s knowledge. Such as when users switch to an incognito browsing session online, the results of which Google can retroactively link back to the users thanks to how deep its digital tentacles reach into the rest of that same user’s online experience.

“That’s not well understood by consumers,” Douglas Schmidt, the author of the study and a Vanderbilt professor of computer science, told the publication AdAge about those findings. “But if you read the fine print on ‘incognito’ mode it brings up a whole lot of disclaimers.”

Here’s how the incognito mode tracking works, in an AdAge recap of the study:

“A person fires up a private browser session in Chrome. On websites that run ads from Google’s online ad marketplace, anonymized cookies are dropped on the browsers associated with the user. If the same person leaves private browsing mode and logs into a Google service like Gmail or YouTube, the act of signing into Google makes it possible to connect the earlier web activity to the now identified user. (Unless, that is, the cookies expired or were manually deleted by the user.)” – READ MORE

The Internet lit up earlier this week with headlines all stemming from an Associated Press investigation that came to this creepy conclusion about Google: the search giant still tracks your location data even after you’ve essentially told it not to.

Now, Google has essentially confirmed that’s indeed what happens. The AP followed up that earlier story with a report today about revised language on a Google help page explaining how its “Location History” setting works. Google hasn’t changed the practice reported earlier this week, the AP makes clear, referring to its findings that several Google apps and websites store a user’s location even if they turn off Location History.

Per the AP, “its help page now states: ‘This setting does not affect other location services on your device.’ It also acknowledges that ‘some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.’ Previously, the page stated: ‘with Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.’

So there it is — confirmation. Google provided a statement to the news outlet about today’s report saying only that “We have been updating the explanatory language about Location History to make it more consistent and clear across our platforms and help centers.”- READ MORE

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