You would think that if (or when) you don’t want Google stalking you around, you simply turn off the GPS function on your phone. It sounds pretty straightforward, and ideally, that is how it supposed to work, except it doesn’t! It seems Google will know your location whether or not you have turned on the GPS functionality on your phone; read, Google will know your location whether you want them to or not.
Google can get location data from Android devices users regardless of the fact you have turned off location services on their phone or not. Quartz reports that from as early as January 2017, Android devices have been mining addresses of nearby cell towers, and relaying this information back to Google.
Quartz further reports that Android handsets have been collecting cellular towers addresses pretty much all the time, even when you are offline, and will relay that information to Google once you get online. The publisher says that all modern Android smartphones have this vulnerability.
The cellular towers mapping was collected using the same system Google uses for push notifications and messages. Quartz got a response from a spokesperson from Google who said that cell towers mapping has been going on for over 11 months now, the data mined is being stored, and has never been used.
Following this revelation, the influential people at Google have vowed to take steps to ensure the collection of users location without their explicit authorization will not be happening anymore going forward. They promised the cellular towers mapping will come to an end by the end of this month.
The Google spokesperson said, “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.”
Mapping the location of a single tower will give away your approximate location. However, when you map several cell towers standing closer to each other, it will be easier to triangulate the phone’s location with an accuracy of up to a quarter-mile radius.
This is the second time in recent months the Search Engine giant, and Advertisement powerhouse is being accused of collecting people’s information under questionable circumstances. In October, people took to Reddit pointing accusing fingers at Google’s Activity Recognition APi, which allows third-party apps to monitor your physical activities, even when your phone is offline.
In an email addressed to TNW, Anis Fehri, the CTO of Smarter:Time, said: “You cannot disable the Play services as they have system-privileges on stock Android, but basically all devices not sold within China use them. We can confirm that the Activity Recognition algorithms works offline, but do not know if any of that data is sent to Google servers (they probably do not need it, they already have access to our geolocation, again through the Play services.)
It might interest you to know that you can stop Google Play services from collecting your data. However, you cannot prevent your cell phone from mapping the addresses of the cell towers nearby.