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Google’s Android phones collecting location data, even if it is turned off: Report

Google's Android phones are collecting location data, even in cases where the user has explicitly turned off the setting, according to a new report

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Published: November 22, 2017 1:06:23 pm
Google collecting location data from Android phones Google’s Android phones are collecting location data, even in cases where the user has explicitly turned off the setting. (Source: Reuters)

Google’s Android phones are collecting location data, even in cases where the user has explicitly turned off the setting. A report in Quartz has shown how Android phones are gathering all data around location and sending it back to Google. The search giant has admitted to this practice, though it clarified that from end of the November 2017, this particular location data collection will stop.

According to Quartz, they “observed the data collection occur” and this was taking place via cell tower addresses. In fact if one looks at the privacy policy page for Google, under location data this collection via cell towers is mentioned.

The relevant paragraph on Google’s Privacy Policy for location data reads as follows: “When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location. We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.” 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.

Google has told Quartz that it did not actually use this location data or store it on the company’s servers. Currently though Android users do not have the option of disabling this particular aspect of location data collection that is employed by Google.

The report also raises questions on why the ‘cell id’ was needed by Google in the first place and points out this could have been used to track people within a radius. This data collection is also worrying because in case of a compromised or hacked smartphone, the location could be accessed by third-parties.

What is more worrying is that even those phones which were reset to “factory default settings” and with  location services disabled for apps, were sending the nearby “cell-tower addresses to Google.” Google says the practice will stop from November end, it does raise questions around user privacy on Android. Google has often faced criticism over its practice of collecting large amount of user data, and the problems with cell-tower location highlights this further.

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