Google Tracks Android Phones Even When Location Services Are Disabled

by Dominic Parks November 24, 2017, 0:58
Google Tracks Android Phones Even When Location Services Are Disabled

Google has acknowledged it has been collecting cell tower location data (Cell ID) even when users disabled location services on their Android phones. However, the company said the data is "distinctly separate" from Location Services, which sends a device's location to the applications.

Google, your friendly Internet tech giant that totally doesn't know everything about you, has reportedly been secretly tracking Android users' locations even when they've opted out of location service tracking.

Google collects information about users' location using IP address, GPS, WiFi access points or cell towers.

'Even when we take precautionary measures that go beyond what the average user would do, it appears we can not escape being tracked. The findings are surprising, given that cell tower data is usually held by carrier networks and only shared with outside companies under extreme circumstances.

The firm admitted it has been using customers' phones to find out where masts are sited even if they have removed the Sim card or switched off location functions.

Google told Quartz it would end the practice by the end of the month.

"In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery", the Google spokesperson said in an email to Quartz.

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"However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system [the system that delivers messages and notifications to your phone], so that data was immediately discarded, and we have updated it to no longer request Cell ID".

Google began using the Cell ID codes to boost their push notifications and messaging management system called Firebase Cloud Messaging, a source familiar with the matter told Quartz. It allows Google to identify users' preference and then shows advertisements based on areas that users are more interested in.

As long as there is a mobile data or Wi-Fi connection, devices will send Google their location when they are in range of a new cellular tower.

Location tracking via smartphones is a common practice used by all the major players, either locally on the device or remotely on a server and is used to provide numerous services expected of a modern phone.

Google noted that the Cell ID data sent to their servers was encrypted, but Quartz noted that a hacker could divert the data to be collected by a third party through the use of spyware or other means.

This is not the first time that data collection concerns have been raised as more companies seem to be hoovering up unnecessary amounts of information that breach its user's privacy.


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