Google Is Planning to Low-Key Nix Its Location-Based Assistant Reminders, but Why Now?

Google Is Planning to Low-Key Nix Its Location-Based Assistant Reminders, but Why Now?

The Google logo in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco.

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

“Okay Google… Set a reminder to remind me to remind you to stop your location reminder feature.”

“…Done.”

Thanks, Google. Well, if you go to the Google Assistant Help page, it now says that the ability to create reminders on the app “is going away soon.” Additionally, the ability to assign a reminder to someone else is also going the way of the dodo.

9to5Google first reported that the tech giant’s plans to ax location based reminders on Google Assistant-enabled devices, such as user phones or Google Home. The soon-to-be nixed feature was first spotted by users on Reddit. Some commenters complained that the feature never truly fulfilled its promise. Others said they found the feature useful, even while using it on iOS devices.

Google did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment Thursday morning asking why the feature is being removed, or when users can expect the change to take place.

The feature reminds users to do tasks when they arrived at specific locations. For instance, it might chime to prompt you to pick up a certain item when you get to the grocery store. Google first offered location-based reminders back in 2018 and the ability to assign others a reminder in 2019.

The timing for this announced change is also telling. Some tech bloggers speculated the features are being removed to make way for Google’s new “Memory” upgrade to assistant, which promises users they can list and store anything from links to articles, books, images, contacts, flights, music, recipes, and more.

But the change is also coming down the pike as they and other app developers have caught major flak for tracking user’s movements even when not using the app. An investigation by Canada’s privacy commissioner showed that people who downloaded the app for Tim Hortons—a popular coffee chain— had their movements tracked every few minutes, even when the app wasn’t in use. Investigators said the app collected info to infer where users lived, worked, and traveled.

The company claimed it was only aggregating location data to analyze user trends, and that it stopped tracking user locations after a local paper broke the story in 2020. But despite Tim Horton’s claims, companies both big and small are constantly trading user data for the purpose of targeted ads.

More countries and municipalities are cracking down on privacy protections. Multiple state attorney generals are suing the tech giant over its collection of user location data. The AGs allege the ubiquity of Google’s apps on phones and devices make it nearly impossible to opt out of any and all location tracking.

Google Assistant does track user data on devices, according to the company’s fact sheet. Specifically, the Google Home app asks users to provide their address, and if you don’t, then it uses the device’s IP address to give user area information such as weather or traffic. The tech giant points to its privacy policy to claim it only collects data based on users’ settings, and that the app only will collect data when the app is active.

The company did not respond to Gizmodo’s query about whether the company uses assistant location reminders for targeted ads.

However, third party apps can also share private information with Google when going through Google Assistant, based on user settings. And as the Tim Hortons scandal shows, a huge variety of companies are looking to reach customers via any means necessary, especially as big tech limits apps’ ability to track users.

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