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My Google Location history is amazingly helpful and informative, and generally accurate. I have all settings set to highest so I can always get the best location accuracy. I've read several posts about how Google estimates my location, using cell towers, wifi SSIDs/BSSIDs, etc and it all makes sense. But when I go on my daily hike, the accuracy is 'way off' by a few miles. I take photos on my hike and their Geo-location tagging is accurate to within a few feet, so I know the location information is available with GPS.

The following screen shot gives an example. The red line was drawn by me and represents my hike. The blue lines are the estimation by Google Location. My hike follows a ridgeline that surrounds a residential neighborhood. Obviously, my phone's location sensor is latching onto either cell-towers or wifi access points in the neighborhood.

enter image description here

Is there any way I can tell my phone to use GPS to report location, rather than wifi or cell tower, during a hike? If I launch google maps during the hike, will that cause my accuracy to improve? I often take photos at various locations along the hike (and these are accurately geo-tagged) but this doesn't seem to help the location map below. I did notice that, if I use a 'hiking app' such as 'map my walk' or 'strava', the location as reported to Google is very accurate. So do I need to launch 'any app that uses GPS' to make the GPS location available to Google?

Also, I've read that I can click on 'blue dots' on the map to see where it's getting the location information from, but I see no blue dots no matter how much I zoom in.

Thanks!

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  • I would assume that Google tries to minimize the used battery by default but if another app already uses GPS Google can also get access to the calculated GPS positions. Just use e.g. a track recorder app on your phone and check if it improves the Google location history or just use the recorded track.
    – Robert
    Aug 28 '20 at 17:38
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Without using a third-party app, you are going to have to keep the Google Maps app open at all times.

I use Google Timeline along with Google Fit for daily exercise walk tracking. In the pocket, screen off, I get what you get, nearby areas or generalized activity around my home. When I have the Google Maps app open, screen on, I can get walking tracks down every street such that when I look at it in Timeline/Google Fit it looks like I'm tracing the neighborhood blocks. If I go into a shop and forget to bring the Google Maps app into the foreground, even when I'm listening to a podcast, the location will jump to when I finally remember to bring forth the Google Maps app. And as expected it does drain the battery more.

I'm using a Pixel 2 with Android 10. Reducing battery usage has been theme with the newer versions of Android so I'm in agreement with Robert, unless you have something trying to getting GPS location data, the lower accuracy location data will be used. I would expect walking directions (like driving directions) which has the Google Maps app in the foreground all the time have the most accurate location data.

One compromise is to open the Google Maps app at some moderate frequency (say 5 minutes) and allow it to get a GPS lock. While the detail of your track not be as accurate as "on all the time" the positions recorded would at least be more aligned with your path.

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  • So I not only have to run Google Maps, but also, keep it in the foreground and with the screen on - oh well! Regarding the idea of opening Google Maps every 5 minutes; that might be good enough, but - I can imagine that during those times when Google Maps is not 'active', location sensing may jump miles across the valley to the arbitrary GPS or WiFi access points that it is currently latching onto! I will try this and report back.
    – Steerpike
    Aug 29 '20 at 4:37
  • You can go into your Google Timeline to remove or correct erroneous locations (distant cell towers or WiFi spots). If anything it will help clean up a personal timeline and hopefully improve the dataset since the app is tracking walk activity the majority of the time. Aug 29 '20 at 5:18
  • if you look at the image I pasted above, there's no 'dot' associated with any of the 'end points' on the map, so I don't see how I can edit anything. Am I missing something?
    – Steerpike
    Aug 29 '20 at 19:50
  • Ah I stand corrected, you are right, I was thinking of stores or similar. I'm not sure if its possible to remove those errant locations (short of removing the entire track). Aug 29 '20 at 20:14
  • Above I commented that I could not see any dots associated with any of the endpoints. I just discovered the 'settings' icon (gear icon) on the map. One option is 'show raw data'. With that feature enabled, lots of red dots appear. I can hover over each dot and an 'accuracy circle' appears on the map. Sadly, I see no option to delete a dot, or correct it. Some of the dots that are way off show a small (good) accuracy circle, so that isn't necessarily a great guide.
    – Steerpike
    Sep 12 '20 at 21:55
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There's a trick: open Google Maps, press Go button, then select a very far away destination that you are not going to arrive, then confirm to find a route. Google map will keep running on background without screen on. Also turn off the navigation voice to avoid the sound they would make. By doing that, Maps will always track your current location even if you are not really going to that destination and all location data will be saved. I use that trick often and it's way more accurate than default location report.

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    I'm somewhat familiar with that 'trick', but how do you keep the map from being visible? I can start navigation, then 'lock' the screen and the screen is dark while navigation continues. But if I want to use the phone, I can hit the menu button and the navigation app shrinks to a small window, hovering over whatever else is on the screen. I cannot get it to disappear altogether (background) without killing it. Edit - I can also achieve the same by launching a hiking/exercise app like 'map my walk' or 'strava', and telling it to track my progress.
    – Steerpike
    Mar 12 at 17:41

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