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

Android phones still track you when location services are off

A report by Quartz reveals that Google has been collecting this sort of cell tower information since the start of 2017.

Google's privacy policy does state that anyone who uses the company's services is subject to having their location tracked. "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".

Quartz first discovered in January that Android phones were sending Google the rough location information of nearby cell towers. Quartz's report details a practice in which Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were now servicing a specific device. Google has now assured that they will put an end to this practice by the end of November this year.

Even with the update that will remove the cell tower data collection, Google's terms of service still remain relatively vague and could open users up to other methods of tracking.

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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.

Although the information is encrypted, and as Google says, not stored, this incident highlights the lack of transparency from such a large company around letting users know what exactly happens to their data. Though Android users can't disable it, it looks like they won't have to worry about it for much longer. And, as Quartz found, the phones also transmitted that information if you'd taken other additional privacy measures, including if your phone had no SIM card-that is, if your phone wasn't even connected to a carrier network. However, the problem is that Google tracks the locations of users who turned off location services and even those who didn't have a SIM card in their devices. Personal data such as political views to their purchase histories to their locations have done wonders for these companies to target their marketing campaigns. However, it doesn't say anything specific about whether or not this continues to apply when location services have been disabled.

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.

For instance, Google requires you to share your location with them so that they can provide you highly accurate map services.

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