Google stops secretly tracking cellular location info

Steve Phelps
November 23, 2017

From January, the company was requesting Cell ID data to track individual devices, even if they didn't have an active SIM in their phone or any apps installed.

Google has been gathering location data from users with Android smartphones and tablets-even when those users have turned off the location services setting and removed the SIM card, according to a report from Quartz. The information is then sent back to Google allowing the company to track user's movements. Adding to this, the spokesperson from Google also said that the data was never stored.

Not only has Google stated that it has never kept the data, but Android devices will no longer send cell tower data to the company without consent.

Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers since the beginning of the year, Quartz said, giving Google access to location information that goes "far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy". The search giant has admitted to this practice, though it clarified that from end of the November 2017, this particular location data collection will stop.

An investigation revealed that Google has been collecting information on the locations of Android devices through nearby cellular towers.

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"It is really a mystery as to why this is not optional", Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher at London-based Hacker House, told Quartz.

However, the spokesperson also told Quartz that Android's notification and messages system is "distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps". Instead, the cell-tower address data was being collected from all new Android devices as the result of a change to Google's Firebase cloud messaging service in early 2017. Google Play Services are required to access numerous search giant's apps and the framework is pre-installed on a majority of Android smartphones targeted at consumers.

So, a bad actor could potentially use the data that a person didn't even know was being transmitted to discover a person's general location. With location tracking, Google has always made it possible to opt out, but according to a new report, Android has been forcing location tracking on you whether you like it or not.

This is happening regardless of if the users have actually turned location services on or off.

Whatever be the reason, Google was experimenting with harvesting Android users' location, and this the not the first time company is accessing users' personal data without their permission.

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