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Android Location Services: Google Tracked Users Even With Setting Turned Off
23 November 2017, 12:30 | Francis Delgado
Android phones still track you when location services are off
The report states that Google has confirmed it can track the location of Android users through the addresses of local mobile phone masts, even when location services are turned off and the sim cards are removed.
A Quartz investigation found the firm had been using nearby cell towers to approximate users' locations without their knowledge from the beginning of 2017. The cell tower addresses were included in the string of information sent to Google, the same information was used to beam relevant notifications and messages.
However, the data was never used or stored, the spokesperson claimed, adding that the company is now taking steps to end the practice.
"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" a Google spokesperson told Quartz when contacted.
According to Google, the company never incorporated cell tower ID into its network sync system, so the data was immediately discarded.
Phones using Google's operating system, Android, have been covertly tracking their users' locations, even when a user has turned off their location services. Google says the practice will stop from November end, it does raise questions around user privacy on Android.
According to a tweet from Ashkan Soltani, a respected security researcher and the former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission (and advisor to the White House), that competitor was Oracle (orcl). This data collection is also worrying because in case of a compromised or hacked smartphone, the location could be accessed by third-parties.
News website Quartz reported Android phones gathered information about nearby mobile phone masts and shared those details with Google. Smartphones with either wifi connection or cellular capabilities were able to transmit the information without users' knowledge.
At the same time, Google's vast repository of wealth owes to its unrivaled ability to learn everything about us and sell that ever-more-granular information to advertisers.
A Google spokesperson has told Quartz that the company has been collecting cell tower addresses to "manage push notifications and messages on Androiddevices for roughly 11 months".
This could be used to target online advertising based around that store, or the products it sells. However, it doesn't say anything specific about whether or not this continues to apply when location services have been disabled.
While Google has acknowledged that this occurred, they have yet to comment specifically on it. Put simply, we don't know whether this tracking was deliberate or not or indeed what they did with this data.
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