Your Android device is sending your location data to Google even if the service is disabled

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Your Android device is sending your location data to Google even if the service is disabled

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Justin Sullivan

If you want to keep your location private, just disable the service, right? Wrong. Android devices are sending cell tower location data to Google even if a user has opted out, according to a new research.

Quartz recently released the report, revealing that information is also being sent if a device has been reset to factory default settings. It happens every time a device with cellular data or a wi-fi connection comes in range with a new cell tower - even if no SIM card is presented. And unfortunately, the study said there is no way for users to prevent it. 

Researchers found that Google has been gathering the data for the last 11 months and that the practice doesn’t seem to be limited to a particular tablet or phone. It’s been collecting cell tower addresses for the system it uses to manage push notifications and messages on Androids. However, customers have not been given the option to be removed from the process.

“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,” the Google spokesperson told Quartz in an email. “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.”

It’s not clear how cell tower addresses improve messaging, “but the privacy implications of the covert location-sharing practice are plain,” the report read. 

“While information about a single cell tower can only offer an approximation of where a mobile device actually is, multiple towers can be used to triangulate its location to within about a quarter-mile radius, or to a more exact pinpoint in urban areas, where cell towers are closer together,” the report read. “The practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked, especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse.”

Now the company plans to release an update that deletes the cell tower data-collecting feature by the end of the month. 

Want to learn more about the investigation? Read the full report here.

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