Google Downplays Report On Android Location Data Collection

Muriel Hammond
November 23, 2017

In fact, even if you remove the SIM card from your device, the phone will resume location sharing as soon as it connects to the internet again. What's more, even users without a SIM card were not safe and the location data was sent by calculating the location using nearby cell towers.

When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location.

The Cell ID was never incorporated into Google's network sync system and all the data was "immediately discarded", the company said. 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 told Quartz that the cell tower addresses were being sent to by the Firebase Cloud Messaging service, which runs on Android phones by default and can't be disabled by end users.

"By the end of November, the company said, Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers can not disable", according to Quartz. As of now, we are not sure about this and Google has reportedly confirmed to Quartz that starting November 2017, it will put end to this activity.

According to Google, the data wasn't stored and was deleted as soon as it was received, but the admission still raises questions of privacy and security.

Location tracking via smartphones is a common practice used by all the major players, either locally on the device or remotely on a server and is used to provide numerous services expected of a modern phone.

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.

It's an extremely concerning discovery, which means that Google can pinpoint exactly where you are even when you go out of your way to hide this information.

For instance, Google requires you to share your location with them so that they can provide you highly accurate map services. MCC and MNC provide necessary network information for message and notification delivery and are distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps.

Quartz explains that this revelation fell into the bucket after regulators and lawmakers are after companies like Google for the user data they possess. This data collection is also worrying because in case of a compromised or hacked smartphone, the location could be accessed by third-parties.

While opt-out location services are used to deliver location-based information like the weather, Google says the Cell ID data collection is "unrelated", and its intention was "solely to improve" its messaging system.

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