Google Admits Tracking Android Users Even with 'Location' Off

Android devices still track you when location services are turned off

A newly published report revealed that Google Inc. has been spying on the locations of the Android Users, even when the user thinks that the location data is being kept private or secret.

"In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery", a Google spokesperson told Quartz about the location-sharing practice.

Even though the information is encrypted when it is sent back to Google, a third party could still compromise the system.

Cell ID codes - data exchanged between a smartphone and a cell tower - can be used to determine roughly where a mobile device is located.

The issue affected Android phones with Google Play Services running in the background. The data's collection without consent is criminally punishable as a violation of personal information self-determination rights. The reports mean that recently tower information transmitted by Android smartphones has been sent in real time to Google's servers.

Moreover, this function works even without Global Positioning System, and SIM card. "Going ahead, we plan to carefully examine whether location information for Android smartphone users was collected and used without their consent, as well as to cooperation with worldwide efforts as we determine the investigative responses to this issue in the USA, the European Union, Japan, and elsewhere", the commission said.

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The Google spokesperson added that Google did not incorporate data into its system therefore it was discarded immediately and the network system was updated to not request Cell IDs any longer.

"It has pretty concerning implications", said Bill Budington, a software engineer who works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for digital privacy.

Android devices without a SIM card, but connected to a WiFi network, would still send tower addresses to Google.

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

"It is really a mystery as to why this is not optional", said Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher at Hacker House, a security firm based in London. According to the country's data regulations, collecting a user's locational data without due consent is illegal and subject to fines and punishment.

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