Google Snatches Location Data, Even From Inactive Android Devices

Android phones still track you when location services are off

Android devices seen covertly sending location data to Google

Google might argue that the data sent is encrypted, however, if the said Android phone is infected with spyware the data can end up in wrong hands. Google also didn't release any more information on the matter. Google has often faced criticism over its practice of collecting large amount of user data, and the problems with cell-tower location highlights this further.

The information collected in the background, and the obtained data are generated and sent to Google's servers.

The data was never used or stored, the Google spokesperson told Quartz. Google has confirmed this to be true, but says that the practice is due to stop by the end of November.

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The revelation is troubling, but not at all surprising.

Similar attacks succeeded in the past due to the weak security of various apps and services, leaving users exposed to everything from identity theft to actual property theft. Hopefully, we're way beyond the "Well, if you don't have anything to hide, what are you so anxious about?" phase of the civil liberties debates, but this would have obvious ramifications for plenty of people who don't want their location history potentially made accessible for the benefit of third parties. According to a Danish research team, back in 2015, apps such as Angry Birds, Pandora, and Candy Crush had this capability.

This discovery no doubt is very alarming and surprising because cell tower data is generally held by carrier networks and only shared with outside companies under certain strict conditions. That data is used to ensure the phone stays properly connected to Google's Firebase Cloud Messaging system, which handles the delivery of messages and notifications to the smartphone.

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Last year, a range of budget Android smartphones sold in the USA were found to be secretly sending personal data to a third party company based in China, including information about users' locations, TechCrunch noted. Global Positioning System tracking can pinpoint which restaurant you're in and that data can be used to figure out things like wait times the popularity of a destination. Snowden also famously requested that his lawyers place their phones in the refrigerator to prevent eavesdropping.

Quartz just released a report from an investigation into Android devices sending location information to Google.

It is, as Quartz puts it, "far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy". Though Android users can't disable it, it looks like they won't have to worry about it for much longer.

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