Google is receiving Android users' locations even location services are off

Cesar Mills
November 22, 2017

Quartz estimates that the location of basically all modern Android devices was collected, even phones coming off factory reset and ones without SIM card.

Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they're connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed. The company claims it did not put this information into the sync system though, which means it was allegedly discarded immediately.

According to the Quartz report, the data Google has access to goes "far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy". Using multiple cell towers can determine a user's location from a quarter-mile radius to a more exact spot, depending on how close the cell towers are together.

Online publication Quartz observed Android phones collecting the addresses of nearby mobile phone masts and sending them back to Google.

Though Google made a change to the Firebase Cloud Messaging system in January to also request Cell ID codes that it planned to use to further beef it up, it never fully integrated it.

The cell tower data has been shared with the company over the last 11 months.

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This isn't the first time Google's run into issues where it's failed to clearly inform users on what kind of data it's collecting and how it's doing so, and it definitely won't be the last.

Knowing the location of one nearby cell tower is not enough to identify the specific location of a handset, and it's user.

It is well known that phones can pinpoint their surroundings while the location services are turned on, in order to use when they are using Google Maps or apps that need geographical information to function.

When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location. Although the location data was encrypted, it could have opened an unexpected hole in an already vulnerable system.

Even with the update that will remove the cell tower data collection, Google's terms of service still remain relatively vague and could open users up to other methods of tracking.

It seems Google is testing a new design layout for the Google Play Store app on mobile which adds a notification section to the proceedings. This could be common practice in urban areas where cell towers are denser.

Other reports by GizPress

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