Published: Fri, November 24, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Google admits tracking users' location even when setting disabled

Google admits tracking users' location even when setting disabled

The report says that the user location data tracking has been in practice since start of this year, and the company essentially collects addresses of nearby cellular towers, even when location services are turned off on the device.

The cell tower addresses were then sent to the system Google uses for push notifications and messaging on Android devices, with the spokesperson saying that the practice further improves the speed and performance of message delivery.

For the past 11 months, devices running on Android software have been sending "Cell ID codes", which contain data on the addresses of nearby cellular towers, to Google, according to a report from Quartz.

The Cell ID was never incorporated into Google's network sync system and all the data was "immediately discarded", the company said.

We all know that smartphones and other mobile devices might use your location to expand the capabilities of various apps and services.

As Quartz reports, "while information about a single cell tower can only offer an approximation of where a mobile device actually is, multiple towers can be used to triangulate its location to within about a quarter-mile radius, or to a more exact pinpoint in urban areas, where cell towers are closer together".

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

Explaining how Maps finds the current location of a user, however, Google touts that a connection to a cellular network can be accurate up to a few thousand metres. Using multiple cell towers it is believed that a person, or phone's location can be tracked to a fairly specific location.

Google has been tracking customers' movements via their mobile phones even when they have disabled functions allowing this. Fortunately, we're not aware of anything like that happening to Google recently, which could have been especially damaging in the context of a newly revealed location monitoring policy.

Google noted that the Cell ID data sent to their servers was encrypted, but Quartz noted that a hacker could divert the data to be collected by a third party through the use of spyware or other means.

Regardless, the company has updated Firebase to remove Cell ID requests on all Android devices.

'Even when we take precautionary measures that go beyond what the average user would do, it appears we can not escape being tracked. The data provides a way to categorize and label people (sometimes in unflattering terms) such as: financial newsletter subscriber, allergy sufferer, "financially challenged", Twitter user with more than 250 friends, and "working-class moms".

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