Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services

Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services

It looks more like they were (inexcusably) naive about the ability of the existing network cell-phone towers to triangulate users' locations down to a narrow area - especially in heavily built-up places like cities, where the towers are denser.

The fact that a person's location can be tracked by a third party using his or her cellphone is hardly new.

What is more worrying is that even those phones which were reset to "factory default settings" and with location services disabled for apps, were sending the nearby "cell-tower addresses to Google".

Revealed by a report by Quartz, Google's Android system, which handles messaging services to ensure delivery of push notifications, began requesting the unique addresses of mobile phone masts (called Cell ID) at the beginning of 2017.

After being inquired, the company has said it is taking every step to stop this practice and from November 2017 it will stop collecting a device's location data without the user's consent. The company does say that location services data is collected, but it is not shared with anybody.

Google's privacy policy notes it may collect location information like IP addresses, Global Positioning System and "other sensors" when you use its services. Though Android users can't disable it, it looks like they won't have to worry about it for much longer.

Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services
Google knows where Android users are even if they disable location services

This activity continued by using the same mechanism that Google uses to transmit notifications and messages to users.

Last year, a range of budget Android smartphones sold in the U.S. were found to be secretly sending personal data to a third party company based in China, including information about users' locations, TechCrunch noted.

These precautions are done by users who prefer to keep their locations private. The data helps locate where a device is located geographically and helps maintain a persistent connection to Google's servers. This results in Google being able to locate you if it wanted to ─ and this situation is far from what you would expect as privacy. A spokesman added: 'We never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded'. However, while looking at one tower wouldn't give an exact location, cross-referencing several towers does give a fairly precise indication of where the device is.

Even if Google didn't use the data, the act of collecting data without permission seems a potential risk.

Google's privacy policy states: "When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location".

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