Privacy on the internet is a contentious issue. One is never really sure of what is being stored where, who is being tapped when, and so on. A report by Quartz claims that Google has been collecting users’ location data even when they had turned off Location Services on their handsets. Almost all Android phones have been gathering addresses of nearby cellular towers, and sending that data back to Google since the start of 2017. Cell tower addresses were collected by the same system that Google uses to manage push notifications and messages.
However, a Google spokesperson clarified that none of the data has been stored or used. Google has also said that it will work towards eliminating the problem by the end of November. “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. However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID,” the spokesperson explained.
This is the second instance in recent times that Google has been found collecting user data under questionable circumstances. Last month, several users took to Reddit to reveal that Google had an Activity Recognition API that allowed third-party apps to track users’ physical activity – even when their devices were offline. The data would be sent to Google as soon as the user appeared online. “We can confirm that the Activity Recognition algorithms work offline, but do not know if any of that data is sent to Google servers,” an official had reportedly said.
The report further states that even devices that had been reset to factory default settings and apps, with location services disabled, were sending nearby cell-tower addresses to Google. When Android devices were connected to a Wi-Fi network, they would send the tower addresses to Google irrespective of whether a SIM card was installed or not. Although the data sent to Google is encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third-party if the device were to be hacked or attacked by spyware. And for users who have consciously turned off location services, that would amount to a breach of privacy.