Your privacy these days is paramount, and it turns out that Google has been a bit lax in ensuring that when it comes to tracking your location. In a new report from Quartz, Google has been found to tracking the addresses of cellular towers near you and collecting the data, even if you’ve turned location sharing off.
According to the report, Google has been collating the data and sending it back to their headquarters even if your phone has been factory reset to basic Android with only pre-installed apps and doesn’t have a SIM card.
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.
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.
This isn’t some boy cried wolf situation though, as the report says: ‘Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice’.
Google said in a statement:
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. 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.
Even advising the information was never stored or used isn’t really much comfort. Google has said that the collection of location data will be stopped in an update that will be released later this month. That is small comfort to the billions of Android users in a world which is becoming increasingly worried about monitoring by both government and big business.
As an advertiser Google is very much in the position to profit from knowing where you are with advertisers keen to offer you location based ads at any time – even if they didn’t use the data (this time) it’s still worrying. It’s also worrying in that compromised phones could possibly have been sending the location data to other sources keen to know your whereabouts.
Google is going to take a hit on their privacy credibility thanks to this, and rightly so. It’s a very big deal, and thankfully Quartz was able to find it and call them out on it.
How will this affect your usage of Android?