Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services

Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services

Quartz said that Google confirmed the practice has been going on since early 2017, and Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers, even when your location services are switched off.

Android smartphones and tablets collect the addresses of cellular towers in the vicinity of the device, sending the information back to Google.

Google said it had been collecting the data for 11 months as a way to improve the "speed and performance" of delivering messages.

"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".

While this data is usually encrypted, it raises concerns for those who would be at risk from being tracked, with Quartz providing examples of "law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse" who would otherwise feel safe just by turning off the location services.

However, Quartz says the California-based company does allow advertisers to target consumers using location data, which has obvious commercial value.

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Meanwhile, the section of Google's privacy policy that covers location sharing states, "When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location".

Explaining how Maps finds the current location of a user, however, Google touts that a connection to a cellular network can be accurate up to a few thousand metres. 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.

Whether you believe Google when they say they didn't use the Cell ID data to track you or not, it's obvious that Google aims to know where all Android users are all the time.

Location services can be really useful.

Had Google properly included Cell ID Codes as part of the Firebase core, it would have sent the data to Google's servers after each request.

'Even when we take precautionary measures that go beyond what the average user would do, it appears we can not escape being tracked. The more pings, the greater the battery drain, so the data collected about the country and mobile networks is used to work out the the minimum number of pings required to stay connected without draining the battery - so called heartbeat analysis. Maybe what we really need is a rethinking of how these terms of services are presented - less legalese and more plain English.

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