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Android has tracked location info regardless of privacy settings
December 18 2017, 02:50 | Guillermo Bowen
Google tracked Android users' even with location services disabled
The operating system automatically tracks the location of the cell towers it is connecting to and phones the information home to Google automatically, a policy which Google confirmed to Quartz. They state that Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were at the time servicing the specific device. But according to a research by Quartz, Android devices have been collecting and sending data even when the option was off. 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.
Quartz just released a report from an investigation into Android devices sending location information to Google.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement 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 failed to explain why it's stopping data collection now that it has been discovered, but it did say that the practice will be stopped.
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.
Although the data sent is encrypted, a third party could make use of it if the handset has been infected with spyware, malware or other hacking tools.
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. Google told Quartz that this practice has existed for 11 months, but that the information was never stored or used and furthermore that the process will now be ended. However, it remains unclear why the company would even start this invasive data collection practice.
By collecting relevant cell phone tower data, Google can identify an Android user's location within a certain range.
Exactly how cell tower addresses improve message delivery on Android phones is still unclear. Quartz's report details a practice in which Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were now servicing a specific device.
Suffice it to say, this seems extremely intrusive for Google to collect this type of data with no way to opt out.
Cell tower locations are very important, although not a very precise indicator of where you might be.