Google found tracking Android users, even with location services switched off

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It did not include any warning that the activity would still be active despite the disabling of the device's location services.

Apparently, Android smartphones since the beginning of 2017 have been collecting addresses of nearby cellular towers even when location services are turned off and sending this data back to Google when the device is connected to a Wi-Fi network or has a cellular data enabled.

This means that even people who actively turn off their Global Positioning System tracking service - thinking their locations will no longer be shared - were being tracked by Google nonetheless. In the case of phones without SIM cards, the information was sent to Google every time the device was connected to a WiFi network.

A Quartz investigation has revealed that even if an Android user turns off their location by choice, it is still available and traceable.

"In order for Android users to receive notifications and messages quickly, an Android device needs to maintain a persistent connection to Google servers using Firebase Cloud Messaging", the source added.

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Google's spokesperson said, that "In January of the current year, we [company] starts looking into Cell ID codes as an additional signal to improve the performance and speed of the message delivery system".

Google Inc. has said - while confirming the practice-that it was ending the practice by the end of the month. Although Google says the cell tower data is encrypted, it doesn't mean it can't be compromised by a hacker. Such personal data, ranging from users' political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors. The only way to stop it would be possible only when Google make changes to Android.

One privacy advocate described the finding as a "betrayal" of users.

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

According to the Google spokesperson, the company's system that controls its push notifications and messages is "distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps". According to the country's data regulations, collecting a user's locational data without due consent is illegal and subject to fines and punishment.