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I haven't granted location privileges to the Google Maps website. If I choose a destination for a route, and then click the suggestion Your location for an origin, the browser prompts to grant the location privilege. If I then click Block, Maps rightly complains that it doesn't have access.

And yet a link to the Maps API with a destination given can trigger an interesting behaviour:

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/?api=1&destination=41.6584924,-79.4921797

If you're not signed into your account, this prompts you for an origin. But if you are signed into your Google account, it can automatically select your location as an origin. In my case, it was approximated to within two blocks.

I suspected this is controlled by the Google account setting Data & privacy > Things you've done and places you've been > Web & App Activity, which is described as:

Saves your activity on Google sites and apps, including associated info like location, to give you faster searches, better recommendations, and more personalized experiences in Maps, Search, and other Google services.

However, when I turned that off and deleted all activity, the approximation still worked and in fact became perfectly accurate rather than two blocks away. Note that I use a VPN on both my computer and (Google account–linked) phone, so in theory my IP address should not reveal my location. Also, under Data & privacy > Data from apps and services you use > Maps, I don't have the timeline turned on nor does it have any data saved. I do have some saved locations, but those should be irrelevant for deducing my current location.

Any insights: What shenanigans are they playing to be able to do this?

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  • do you use wifi? it's hard to tell from your q about your particular eco-system, however, i expect that any wifi usage will lead to location being inferred via some combination of gps reading, and trilateration of the wifi broadcast ssids that can be sensed by your device/s at a particular point in time .. ps. you may not have gps turned on, but damned near 100% of the geographically challenged do!
    – brynk
    Commented Mar 17 at 15:52
  • We have a lot of questions here about Google Maps geolocation. Check and test all those options and see if there is still a question about how it is working.
    – schroeder
    Commented Mar 17 at 17:03
  • @schroeder Fair enough. I guess my real question is one of curiosity that ought to be posed to Google: "Why do you circumvent my explicit request in some use cases but not others?" Commented Mar 17 at 18:26

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There are many way google can guess your location

  1. Ip address. Your internet provider cache your ip address and ip address only change in specific situation where most of the time it is rare to happen. Google can use your ip address and your past activity to try guess where you are.
  2. Cookie. Google can use your cookie to determine your past location, such as the last location assigned to that cookie before you delete activity. Most browser use default settings in such way that they never delete long term cookie unless you change the setting or delete cookie manually, which means that long term cookie from weeks, months, or even years ago is still kept in your device unless you change the setting or delete the cookie yourself. If this creep you out, i'm sorry, but unfortunately this is the common practice in the industry where corporation have no regard to user privacy and care more about user data to make more money, combined with user laziness to know how browser work in the background and change browser default settings. For this reason i switched to Mozilla Firefox browser and changed the setting to delete cookie everytime i exit browser. This auto delete cookie feature comes with the drawback that i have to relogin on every website everytime i open browser, but i dont mind as long as those long term tracking cookie is deleted.
  3. Local storage. Same as cookie, most browser dont delete long term local storage data unless you change the settings or delete it yourself.

Note that I use a VPN on both my computer and (Google account–linked) phone, so in theory my IP address should not reveal my location.

Using vpn while still having the cookie before you are connected to the vpn is akin to driving far away from home then using mask, hoodie, and changed your clothes to hide your identity, but at the same time still wearing a nametag that tells everyone your name. VPN does not hide your past location unless you delete those cookie.

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