Android Location History,Reporting and Tracking
Last Updated: February 1, 2016
Android tablets and mobile phones have the ability to report your location to online services, usually with pinpoint accuracy, if the device has GPS capability.
Knowing your location,and tracking your location history is very important for many android applications.
For example a weather Widget on your home screen would be more useful if it displayed the weather in your current location rather than in a pre-set home location.
All locations based services e.g. Google Maps,Location History, SAT Nav etc rely on the location service.
In this tutorial we look at how device tracking and reporting works and how to manage it as well as how you can find the location of a lost device.
The Location Service or Location reporting service
The Location service runs in the background on your tablet or phone and calculates your current location using a variety of methods.
Apps running on the device that require location information request it from the location service.
They can then use this location information accordingly.
The Google location history service will use it to update your location history on Google Maps
A SAT NAV App will use it to display your current location and calculate your route.
You can prevent Apps accessing your location information by turning the Location setting Off. (see below)
If you do that Apps that rely on knowing your location e.g. SAT NAV will not work.
Android Location Settings
To change location settings go to:
Turn the location service on by pressing on the selection button, blue is on.
Mode – Location Accuracy on Android Devices
The location service has various ways it can determine the device location.
This is necessary because not all device are equipped with GPS, and GPS doesn’t work very well indoors.
Click on the mode link to set the mode for the device.
Here is a screenshot showing the location detection modes taken from Google support.
GPS is the most accurate but it doesn’t work if the device is indoors. Sat Nav Applications may need this for turn by turn navigation.However GPS consumes a of of battery power.
Wi-Fi can also be quite accurate (around 50m ) but can also give some very strange readings due to the way it Maps access points. See Here for a good forum discussion on location accuracy.
High accuracy is probably the best setting in most circumstances.
Apps Requesting Location Services
Underneath the mode setting you will see a list of Apps/services that have recently requested device location information from the location service.
In the screen shot above there are several Google Apps and services. a SAT Nav App and an Airline App.
Google Location History and Sharing and How They Work
You can enable Google location history for the device, and for a Google account.
If you have several Google accounts on the device you can enable each individually.
When you enable the Google location history service it will regularly report your device location to a Location History service running on the Web as part of Google Maps.
To do that your device needs:
- To be connected to the Internet.
- Have Location enabled.
- Have a registered Google account.
- Have Location History Enabled for the Google account.
Although the location history tracks the device location it is associated with a Google account.
A Google account can log the location history of multiple devices, and location history for a device can be sent to multiple Google accounts.
The Screenshot below which shows the Location history settings on my Nexus tablet which has two Google accounts configured.
You can see that I can set the location history not only for that device but also for my other tablet (GT()H) which is also configured to use the same Google accounts.
You can turn location history on or off for each device registered to the google account.
[outline style=”yellow”]If you have multiple devices using the same Google account then it is possible to appear to be in two places at one time as the location history doesn’t differentiate between devices.[/outline]
Your location history is stored on the Internet as part of Google Maps.
Viewing Your Location History
You can view your location history by going to the Google location history page which is part of Google maps.
The timeline tracks all of the places you have visited on a day by day basis, and how you traveled.
It can be very useful when trying to remember names of places that you have visited, but you may find it a little disturbing on how much information is being collected.
You can disable Google location history from the web interface by clicking on the pause location history in the bottom right.
This turns off location tracking for all devices on this account.
Deleting Your Location History
You can delete all your location history or the historyfor individual days.
To delete all location history find the gear icon on the map and click it you should see the option to delete all location history.
To delete individual location history for individual days open the day in the timeline and click on the trash can and click it.
Location Sharing Service
This lets you share your location with family and friends.
To enable it click on the location sharing (on location page) and the email addresses of people you want to share your location with.
It is easier if they have a Google account but possible even if they don’t. Here are the Instructions from Google.
They can view your location and track your position by going to Google maps signing in and selecting the location sharing option from the menu.
When they logon to Google maps your location will appear on the Map.
This is a very useful feature, as imagine you need to meet someone at an airport or train station, then if they shared their location with you you would know exactly where they were at any given time.
Device Management- Find My Device
Note: The old android device manager is now called find my device.
Find my device is a web based service provided by Google that allows you to locate and remotely manage your Android devices.
To use Find my device you must have:
- Enabled Find my device
- Have location services/reporting enabled
- The device must be turned on
- The device must be connected to the Internet
- Be signed into a Google account.
How to Enable Find my Device
You need to go to Google settings using the Google settings gear icon.
and then Press Find My device.
Enable options (usually both)
Using Find My device
You can use it to:
- Locate the device.
- reset the lock screen
- Erase all of your Data as a security precaution.
You can use the device manager to manage multiple devices that are used by the Google account holder.
To use it go to android.com/find and enter the user name and password of a Google account that is being used on the device you want to manage.
Note: If you are logged in then you can also do a Google search for find my phone.
You should see a screen similar to the one show below:
In the screen shot above I have two devices using the Google account and I can manage both of them.
When you click on the device to select it the device manager will attempt to contact the device.
It displays the location on the Map to the right, and the last seen time, and battery status next to the device.
A notification will also appear on the device.
You can now take any of the actions described previously.
Here is a Google video that show you how to lock,ring and erase the data on the device.
Location Dependent Products and Services -Google Now
Google Now is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Google.Google Now is available within the Google Search mobile application for Android and iOS, as well as the Google Chrome web browser on personal computers. -Wiki
Google Now is very dependent on location information and if you want to use Google now you need to enable it.
Android tablets and phones may be reporting on your location, and recording your location history, and tracking places you have visited.
To protect your privacy it is important that you acquaint yourself with the location history settings on your tablet, and on your Google accounts that you use on your tablet/phone.
Microsoft and Apple are developing similar products to Google Now, and location information is going to be very important for a whole host of new applications.
The Android device manager (find my device) is a web based application that can perform important administration functions like remotely locating a lost android device.
Common Questions and Answers
Q- Can I use tracking to find out where my child is?
A- Yes -You can get them to share their location information with you.
Q- I have multiple devices will they all show up in my location history?
A- Yes If you have enabled location history for each device.
Q-Why is Location History on Tablet not as detailed as for My Mobile?
A- To work your tablet needs to connect to the internet, and If you drive along a road with your tablet it is unlikely to be able to connect to a Wi-fi Hotspot. However your phone will be able to connect using the mobile network.
Resources and References: