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Google admits to having tracked location data of Android phone users

23 November 2017

Even devices that have gone through a factory reset were found to be transmitting private data back to the company.

According to a recent report by Quartz, even when you have location services turned off, Google's Android devices still track your location.

Android phones have been collecting the location data of users even when Global Positioning System was turned off and there was no SIM card in the device.

There is now no way for Android users to prevent their location data from being sent to Google, according to the report.

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"To ensure messages and notifications are received quickly, modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires the use of Mobile Country Codes (MCC) and Mobile Network Codes (MNC)", the company said in a statement.

Uncovered in a report by Quartz, the Android operating system has been gathering data on your location since the beginning of the year, and sending it back to Google every time the phone is connected to the internet.

A Google spokesperson said the company will stop collecting Cell IDs by the end of November.

In a nutshell, the problem is that for almost a whole year - since January 2017 - Android devices have been collecting addresses of nearby cell towers and reporting them back to Google, regardless of any individual user settings.

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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.

Location tracking enables Goole to determine, for example, whether an individual with an Android phone or with Google apps has visited a specific high street store. This data collection is also worrying because in case of a compromised or hacked smartphone, the location could be accessed by third-parties. Those more concerned about privacy may opt to switch off location services, something which is offered within Android and seemingly without any strings attached.

Whether the collected data was ultimately used or not, the point is that users weren't told about it - it is not mentioned in the section of Google's privacy policy that covers location sharing. However, Google said that the apps won't have access to the data.

For those concerned about their privacy, location services is just one more setting to disable on their phone.

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Data from a single mobile mast can only provide an approximate idea of a phone's location, but data from several towers can be used to triangulate a device's location to within a few streets in urban areas.

Google admits to having tracked location data of Android phone users