Google promises to end 'concerning' smartphone tracking

22 November, 2017, 00:20 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • Your Android smartphone could be tracking your every move even when location services switched off. This image shows information sent from one of the gadgets to Google revealing the location of a nearby mobile transmitter tower

Factory resetting the smartphone and disabling the location services won't work as devices both on mobile data or on Wi-Fi are said to send location data to Google when near a cell tower. Google would gather addresses from nearby cell towers any time a user had a Wi-Fi or cellular connection and would send that data to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android devices.

A source familiar with the matter stated that Google added the cell tower data-collecting feature to improve its Firebase Cloud Messaging, where devices have to ping the server at regular intervals in order to receive messages promptly.

Quartz just released a report from an investigation into Android devices sending location information to Google.

Google's representative also confirmed that this will be stopped by by the end of November and Android phones will no longer send the cell-tower location to Google. That's pretty vague, and the article mentions that Google probably also uses the info for advertisers to target you.

Some researchers have said that although the data is encrypted, it is possible to send the data to third party services if the handset is affected with spyware.

Even if you take Google for face value in this situation, it is very sensitive data that it was collecting without people even being aware of what was going on.

Android phones like the Google Pixel 2 continue to do so even when you haven't got a SIM card inserted or any apps running. By using data from multiple towers a location can be triangulated within about a quarter-mile radius
Google tracked Android users' even with location services disabled

A spokesperson for Google said the data was never stored and promised to end the practice.

This particular section of the privacy policy might not pertain to this specific data collection practice. And while it might seem comforting that Google doesn't know your exact location, Quartz notes that every time you pass a cell phone tower and are using cellular data or WiFi, your Android phone sends identifying data to Google. "Perhaps it is time for the USA to consider regulations similar to the forthcoming GDPR in the European Union to institute greater transparency around the collection of personal data, including location, and providing a mechanism for users to have greater control over what data gets stored and where".

Google has been quietly doing this for nearly a year, but now that the company has been caught it says it'll stop.

The term "location services" oftentimes refers to exact Global Positioning System data for app usage, such as Google Maps finding your best commute route, or Uber figuring out exactly where you're standing to let drivers know your pickup point.

The interesting part is that the spokesperson for Google claims this location data was meant to help deliver messages in a more efficient manner.

Exactly how cell tower addresses improve message delivery on Android phones is still unclear.

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