An investigation by Quartz magazine revealed that Android smartphones are instructed remotely to share user location data with Google even when location services are turned off.
The Quartz team also found that Google tracks smartphone users’ location even when there are no apps in use or no SIM card had been installed. Google confirmed the news when it was contacted for comment.
The company admitted that any Android smartphone connected to the Internet can beam back location data regardless of the status of location services, like the GPS. The data collection practice has started since at least the beginning of the year, but Google promised to end it by the end of the month.
According to the Quartz report, the data Google has access to goes “far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.”
Google has been mostly interested in the addresses of individual cell towers the users are connected to. The data on cell towers is sent to the system that manages communications and push notification.
Google Collecting User Location Data for Months
A spokesperson for the tech giant explained the location data was needed to improve those services, but Quartz experts couldn’t explain how cell tower data could help improve a messaging service.
Google also said:
- The cell tower data has been shared with the company over the last 11 months.
- The practice would be ended “by the end of November”.
- The so-called Cell ID data was required to boost the speed of message delivery.
The company claims that the data was never incorporated into its systems and was immediately discarded.
Experts explained that knowing the address of a cell tower can only offer an approximate location of a handset. But knowing the address of at least three nearby cell towers could result in the exact location of that device via a method known as triangulation.
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