Google tracked Android users' even with location services disabled

Delia Watkins
November 23, 2017

Meanwhile, Google's privacy policy does include the following section on "location information" (below) which states that users of "Google services" may have their location data collected, including mobile tower data.

Google in its terms of use for its services vaguely refers, "When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location".

Apparently, this was due to the cell towers that receive the signals of their phones, which would then send it to Google.

Users may have previously thought that by turning their location services off that they would not be tracked, but a new report from Quartz shows that to not be the case at all.

Privacy concerns emerge as Google confirms it tracks Android device locations regardless of user settings.

The Cell ID was never incorporated into Google's network sync system and all the data was "immediately discarded", the company said.

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The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users.

"That Android users' locations have been hoovered up and sent to Google even when phones are, to all intents and purposes disabled, is absolutely disgraceful". If spyware were installed on a user's phone, for example, the data could conceivably be stolen and used for nefarious purposes.

The collection of cell tower location has been going on as far back as early this year, with Google using the improved Firebase Cloud Messaging service - an improved version of their Google Cloud Messaging service used to send notifications, to collect and send the data back. It claimed to have started tracking cell towers for a now-abandoned feature that was created to enhance data speeds.

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.

Quartz said a Google spokesperson confirmed the practice when confronted with the findings. The first is pretty obvious, and that is that when location services are switched off, they should actually be off. But outlets point out the description leaves room for transparency in regards to exactly what kind of data it's collecting.

According to news site Quartz, since January Google has been using a practice that "pings" nearby telephone masts and gathers their addresses before sending the information back to the technology giant. That particular feature helps provide a device's specific geographic location to applications on a device.

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