Google Collecting Android Location Data, Even With Tracking Disabled

Audrey Hill
November 22, 2017

Quartz experts found that Android smartphones track users' location even when location service is turned off, there is no SIM card in the smartphone, and there are no apps installed.

Cell tower addresses were collected by the same system that Google uses to manage push notifications and messages, a spokesperson for the company told Quartz.

The internet giant now admits it grabs data from Android phones with just an internet connection.

Google confirmed back in January of this year, saying, it "began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery". The company claims it did not put this information into the sync system though, which means it was allegedly discarded immediately. 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. The data collection practice has started since at least the beginning of the year, but Google promised to end it by the end of the month. Not only does location tracking use up precious battery life, it's kind of creepy knowing that your smartphone is tracking your every move.

Even if you take Google for face value in this situation, it is very sensitive data that it was collecting without people even being aware of what was going on. In both cases, it's reasonable to assume users weren't expecting Google to be collecting this data.

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Google admitted to developing a system that would be able to track user locations despite users choosing to opt out of such a feature but said it never went through with implementing the system.

When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location.

In an investigation led by Quartz, the publication reported that even if a user disables location and doesn't even insert a SIM card, Android phones still collects location information and sends it to Google.

Cell-tower locations collected and sent to Google from an Android phone with location services turned off and carried in Washington, DC. Triangulating between cell towers will reveal a device's location to a high degree of accuracy, especially in urban areas where towers are more common.

Cell tower locations are very important, although not a very precise indicator of where you might be.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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