We realize that sometimes Android phones track our location to help us book an Uber or provide a better route on maps. But when we don’t require GPS we turn location sharing off and think now we’re off the grid!
Well! That’s where you’re wrong!
Google recently admitted that it is tracking its users even when they turn “location services” off. Or hey! even when they are not using any SIM Card. Can you believe that? Well, that’s how they do it.
How do they do it!
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones are collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers, even when we disable the location services. The data hence collected, is sent back to the Google in an encrypted form.
With this data, Google has access to all their users’ location movements, place where they’ve been at, which is far beyond privacy that someone can expect.
“The cell tower addresses have been included in information sent to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android phones for the past 11 months, according to a Google spokesperson.” quoted the source Quartz.
However, the spokesperson said that these data were never stored or used and now the company will end this practice after being contacted by Quartz.
“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. “However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID.”
The Verge reported that all modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires mobile country codes and mobile network codes, so tower info called “Cell ID” codes were considered an “additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.”
Google added the cell tower data collection feature to improve its Firebase Cloud Messaging, where devices need to ping to the server at regular intervals to receive messages promptly.
The findings are however surprising given that the cell tower data is not generally given away by carrier networks, and only shared under special circumstances. Through these Google practices, a users’ location within a radius of quarter-mile could determined easily.
“When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location” using “various technologies… including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell tower.”
Google will be rolling out an update by the end of this month, and remove the feature that collects cell tower data. While Google said that it doesn’t allow the use of this location data, it does allow advertisers to target consumers using location data.