Google collects Android user location data even if location services are off

Lucy Hill
November 26, 2017

Google has admitted to collecting the location data of Android devices, even when users choose not to allow it.

"It seems quite intrusive for Google to be collecting such information that is only relevant to carrier networks when there are no SIM card or enabled services", Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher, told media in London.

News website Quartz reported Android phones gathered information about nearby mobile phone masts and shared those details with Google.

"We never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded", it said in a statement.

A spokesperson told The Verge that the cellular tower data was supposed to make message delivery faster, but Google chose to ditch the plan.

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Google has come under scrutiny due to reportedly collecting data that shows the locations of users of smartphones without the users' knowledge.

Google has confirmed this practice and has stated that they are trying to end this practice after being contacted by Quartz. Those addresses were included in information, such as Cell ID codes, sent to Google for almost a year. "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 United States, the European Union, Japan, and elsewhere", the commission said.

If Google collected Cell IDs without consent, the company may have violated South Korea's Location Data Protection Act, whether the data was stored on Google's US servers or not, said Hwang Sun-chul, an official with KCC's commission's privacy infringement division. Google was previously charged over 210 million won (US$193,000) in KCC penalties after being found to have collected wireless LAN (Wi-Fi) information without consent when developing its Street View photo-based map service in South Korea in 2014.

Android phones dominate the global market.

Revealed by a report by Quartz, Google's Android system, which handles messaging services to ensure delivery of push notifications, began requesting the unique addresses of mobile phone masts (called Cell ID) at the beginning of 2017.

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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