Android phones accused of sending location details to Google

23 November, 2017, 00:27 | Author: Cecelia Webb
  • Google cell tower data collection on Android

Even devices that have gone through a factory reset were found to be transmitting private data back to the company. But starting earlier this year, cell tower ID information began getting collected from Android devices as well as the result of a change to Google's Firebase messaging platform. Since the company is also relying WiFi access points, it meant even phones without a SIM but connected to a WiFi would send back their location to Google. The were never used or stored, the spokesperson said, and the company is now taking steps to end the practice after being contacted by Quartz. This is apparently what Google has been doing with its Android OS. Even users on Wi-Fi only devices were tracked when using the internet in any capacity, and users on cell phones could be tracked through cell tower triangulation, even when their phones had no SIM cards in them and weren't connected to any networks.

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.

Quartz said a Google spokesperson confirmed the practice when confronted with the findings. But Google pledged to stop collecting the information by the end of November.

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.

Google cell tower data collection on Android

"This is an admission of a breach of all the systems enabled by the company", said Dr Abdulrazaq al-Morjan, an information security and digital forensics expert based in Saud Arabia.

But in most cases it is possible to prevent the location tracking systems from recording data, should services be disabled and privacy features enabled.

For those concerned about their privacy, location services is just one more setting to disable on their phone. You can see a statement from Google below.

Since January 2017, Android phones and tablets have been collecting addresses of nearby cellular towers and also sending this encrypted data to Google's push notifications and messaging management system. People have all kinds of reasons for turning off location services, and the system that was in place essentially disregarded these preferences and recorded the data regardless. Google Play Services are required to access numerous search giant's apps and the framework is pre-installed on a majority of Android smartphones targeted at consumers. Google is still using the other codes, MCC and MNC, because they "provide necessary network information for message and notification delivery".




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