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Google Collects Android User’s Locations Even When Location Services Are Disabled
Many people realize that smartphones track their locations. But what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any apps, and haven’t even interested a carrier Sim Card?
Even if you take all of these precautions, phones running android software gather data about your location and sent it back to Google when they are connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed.
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towards – even when location services are disabled – and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a responsible consumer expectation of privacy.
Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.
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. They were never used or stored, the spokesperson said, and the company is now taking steps to the practice after being contacted by Quartz. By the end of November, the company said, Android phones will no longer send cell tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers cannot disable.
“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 location sharing practice does not appear to be limited to any particular type of android cell phone or tablet, Google was apparently collecting cell tower data from all modern android devices before being connected by Quartz. A source familiar with the matter said the cell tower addresses were being sent to Google after a change in early 2017 to the Fire base Cloud messaging service, which is owned by Google and runs on Android phones by default.
Even devices that had been reset to factory default settings and apps, which location services disabled, were observed by Quartz sending nearby cell tower addresses to Google. When android services are connected into a WiFi network, they will send the tower addresses to Google even if they don’t have Sim Cards installed.
While Google says it doesn’t use the location data it collects using this service, it’s does allow advertisers to target consumers using location data, an approach that has obvious commercial value. The company can tell using precise location tracking, for example, whether an individual with an android phone of running Google apps has set foot in a specific store, and use that to target the advertising a user subsequently sees.
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