Google wants to use your smartphone to track your visits to retail stores

“Tech companies large and small have long been trying to use smartphones to connect consumers’ online activity to what they do in ‘real’ life,” John McDermott reports for Digiday. “Google is now telling advertisers it has a way to do just that – and it involves tracking consumers’ smartphone locations all the time, wherever they go, even when they’re not using a Google app.”

“Google is beta-testing a program that uses smartphone location data to determine when consumers visit stores, according to agency executives briefed on the program by Google employees,” McDermott reports. “Google then connects these store visits to Google searches conducted on smartphones in an attempt to prove that its mobile ads do, in fact, work.”

“Google’s ability to make this connection is predicated on users opting in to location services on their smartphones and thus, in some cases, being subject to constant location monitoring. Dan Auerbach, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that users might not realize they’ve opted in to constant location tracking when they opt in to ‘location services,'” McDermott reports, “It is easiest for Google to conduct this passive location tracking on Android users, since Google has embedded location tracking into the software. Once Android users opt in to location services, Google starts collecting their location data as continuously as technologically possible. (Its ability to do so is dependent on cell tower or Wi-Fi signal strength.)”

McDermott reports, “But Google can also constantly track the location of iPhone users by way of Google apps for iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system… Google’s namesake iOS app — commonly referred to as Google mobile search — continues collecting a user’s location information when it runs in the background. This information is then used to determine if that user visited a store and whether that store visit can be attributed to a search conducted in the app. Store visits can also be tracked via Google’s other iOS apps that use location services. If iOS users open their Chrome, Gmail or Google Maps app in a store, their location can be deemed a store visit. Location sharing is opt-in for all these apps.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” and “Murray” for the heads up.]


  1. I hate the sound of this. But of course banks and credit card companies already do this. They know where I got gas, when I stopped at Starbucks, and every store where I made purchases.

    1. I like the fact that they are collecting data about my shopping because I want targeted ads for ONLY the products and services I use. Competitors can bid for my business.

  2. I know that I don’t pay any attention to on-line ads and don’t know anyone who does. In fact, I actively avoid them. Perhaps Google will actually discover just how poorly on-line ads work “in real life.” Then the advertisers that are dumping dollars on Google to place these ads might redirect their energies in other directions. Maybe that’s good, or maybe not. Interesting experiment none the less.

  3. I have a very simple response: NO F’ING WAY!

    But I’m willing to bet that if they dangle a little discount in front of the “Walmart crowd” for opting in, they’d jump right on to it.

  4. Can someone explain to me how this is different than iBeacons? As much as I hate Google and their constant need to sell my information, won’t iBeacons give Apple developers the same level of information when I visit brick and mortar stores, therefore allowing companies to target ads/messages to me while in the store? I don’t like the idea of any company invading my privacy and monetizing it without my consent and to my annoyance.

    1. The difference is Googles core business is about buying habits so they can sell this data to their clients.

      Apple just wants the data to help you locate items in a store. This data will never get used for marketing purposes. Just a better shopping experience

      1. Pigs arse iBeacons won’t be used for marketing. If a retail store implements iBeacons it’s the retailer who will bombard me with ads. Apple provide the tech but it’s the store or whatever that provides the content.

        IBeacons is wonderful tech and will provide an enhanced experience in a museum, art gallery, library etc etc but if I wander into a retail store if I’m sprayed with ads continuously I’ll switch it off.

      2. You left out one important difference between Google and Apple and it also relates to iBeacon.

        Google sees you the user as their commodity to sell to other companies. THIS is where they make their money and why they built the android OS (and give it away for free) to track and make money. The money that has made Google what it is today comes from data mined from users. Users are the commodity.

        Apple and iBeacon use this as a service. The better service, the higher you think of them. They do not do this to sell your data to other companies.

    2. No it won’t. You’ll need to have that store’s app installed before anything can happen. Google is apparently doing this at a system wide level. iBeacons is basically an app level service – whatever manner it is used is up to the developer of that app.

      Apple is not tracking locations and handing them off to “whoever”. An app has to register which beacons its interested in and then the system will trigger an event so the app can respond.

      If you’re in a store and you have their app installed and have elected to share your location data with it, then the app will be able to pick up on beacons. What they use the beacons for is entirely up to the developer. Will some of these places start bombarding you with ads? I suppose that depends on the store, but more than likely most places will use it to notify you of specific sales or special offers. There’s always going to be abuse with any technology. If you’re getting bombarded with ads from a specific app, you can simply delete it and then complain to the developer or even Apple.

      However, I think it’ll be a great technology that will open the doors to many, many, different things.

      Imagine entering your shopping list in Target’s app. When you get to the store, the app calculates the most efficient route and guides you through the store to get everything you need. For a service like that, there’s nothing wrong with say letting me know that a competing product on my list is on sale, or that the product I’m about to buy is on sale next week, etc.

      That’s just retail. Can be used by automakers to unlock and start your car. Computer companies to automatically log you in when you sit down at your desk. Security systems. Homes. Airports. Museums. Hospitals, etc.

      1. @Michael…thanks for the thoughtful reply. I still don’t fully understand how these apps and beacons work together. For example, say I have the Target and Walmart apps loaded on my phone both configured for use with iBeacons and running in the background. I walk into a Target location, can the Walmart app detect my location and send me competitive ads and notices?

      2. Like hell.

        Google will just take the data and use it.

        You forget that google don’t give a shit about us. We are literally their herd that the google vampires feed off.

        Remember the 1st matrix movie where neo wakes up – well we are all neo.

        Wake up and realise where all this stuff is going!

        You won’t be able to take a dump in the toilet without google knowing about it and selling that info to Tolkien paper companies.

        Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984. He was right with that book. But instead of big brother being an overmined big brother is an internet company feeding off the world population.

    3. I keep coming to Minority Report. A scene where Tom’s character is walking through the mall, then goes to the Gap. While in they movie it scans for your eyes…iBeacons, I assume would work in a similar fashion but via Bluetooth/WiFi. But the shopping experience would be something like it. Some may like that others may not.

  5. This is scary, thankfully I have no google on my devices at all. I even use Bing as the default search. My devices have been google-free for a couple of years.

    This proves in my mind that google are totally devoid of ethics or principles. Do No Evil my arse.

  6. actually Google now is quite awesome. Having Google and Apple competing is good for all of us. It looks like Apple is taking privacy a lot more seriously and generate a lot of good will there. There is something for everyone.

    1. “actually Google now is quite awesome.”

      How so? Please explain.

      “It looks like Apple is taking privacy a lot more seriously and generate a lot of good will there.”

      Where’s Google in that line of thought? Is Google still awesome?

  7. “Dan Auerbach, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation…” when he’s not busy laying down wicked grooves and singing for the Black Keys…

  8. Please tell me how to eliminate google from my life? And what apps are google location specific that are in Apple’s App Store. What search engine to use? I thought Safari was using google I need some help, please. I did my research on ibeacon, but android will soon put their hoofs in it and turn it bad. So to get my iphone in a safe place, what do I do

    1. “Please tell me how to eliminate google from my life?”

      Don’t use Google services.

      “And what apps are google location specific that are in Apple’s App Store.”

      If you have Google apps on your iOS device, go to:
      Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services

      This shows you what apps are using Location Services and allows you to turn off Location Services on a per-app basis.

      “What search engine to use?” or come to mind as great alternatives to Google search. I personally use Yahoo.

      “I thought Safari was using google I need some help, please.”

      In iOS, you can change Safari’s search engine. Go to:
      Settings -> Safari -> Search Engine

      and choose Yahoo from there.

      “I did my research on ibeacon, but android will soon put their hoofs in it and turn it bad. So to get my iphone in a safe place, what do I do”

      Regarding iBeacon, only download apps from retail stores that you trust is my best advice. Google (nor Android) can’t put their hoofs onto your iPhone unless you let them. There are many great alternatives to Google’s apps that can be found in Apple’s App store, so get those instead.

  9. Let’s translate that headline ‘google want to use your smartphone to track your visits to retail stores’

    Bullshit machine processing….

    …beep beep ping!

    Translates as ‘Google want to suck more personal data out of your life so that it can sell even more I your info to its billionaires club of global blue chip companies so they can sell you more crap you don’t want. This will also mean google can charge the members of twit billionaires club even more money for YOUR information’

    Why the fuck don’t people realise what’s going on and doing something about this blatant invasion of human rights, data protection and identity theft??

    I think everyone in the world should invoice google for £1mllion each as that is the value of your personal information to google.

  10. I wonder if any law-enforcement types have thought to contacting Google about customer that often are in neighborhoods where drugs are sold? Could they get a warrant based on activity (location data) in such neighborhoods? Any legal experts out there? 🙂

  11. The civilian version of the No Such Agency.

    Welcome to “Total Information Awareness.”

    Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
    — “Nineteen Eighty Four,” by George Orwell

  12. When I go shopping I have very specific ideas about what I want. If I’m browsing, I rarely ever look at my phone, other than to occasionally scan barcodes with Red Laser, as a memory aid for present buying at a later date. Targeted adverts will be a massive fail with me; I don’t look at them.

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