Android devices seen covertly sending location data to Google

Google collects Android users' locations even when location ...

According to a report from Quartz, Google has been doing a bit of location tracking on Android phones even if you told them not to by turning off your phone's location services. This may not happen as frequently in big sky country, but people living in cities are far more likely to pass by cell phone towers multiple times per day. 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. "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 spokesperson went on to say. When Android devices are connected to a WiFi network, they will send the tower addresses to Google even if they don't have SIM cards installed. Check out Google's Privacy Checkup page to edit what data you're sharing with the public, your friends, or even advertisers. That may be true, but it's worth pointing out Android devices never gave users a way to opt out of the collection of cell tower data.

Quartz found that Google has essentially been pinging nearby cellular towers and retrieving that info through the Firebase Cloud Messaging service that manages push notifications and messages.

After being called out about the practice, Google said that it will stop Android devices from sending the Cell ID by the end of this month.

As a result, Google's parent company Alphabet whose original moto was "Don't be Evil, ' has access to consumer data that is at odds with users" privacy expectations.

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.

It is not clear how cell-tower addresses, transmitted as a data string that identifies a specific cell tower, could have been used to improve message delivery. Google's terms of service, at the time of publish, still vaguely state, "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". That's especially true looking at it from a security perspective, as this cell tower data could be compromised if an Android device were to be stolen.

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