Google collected user data through cell tower for 11 months

Android phones have been recording the locations of mobile masts and sending the data back to Google

Android phones have been recording the locations of mobile masts and sending the data back to Google Justin Sullivan Getty Images

At the beginning of 2017, Android smartphones started sending their locations to the cellular towers in the area, and then they sent them back to Google. As a result, Google and its parent company - Alphabet - might be peeking into your location information exploiting users fundamental right privacy.

In an email, 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".

The Cell ID was never incorporated into Google's network sync system and all the data was "immediately discarded", the company said.

The information is collected even if the user actively turns off location services, has not used any apps, and has not even inserted a carrier SIM card, the investigation has found.

Google said that the data was never stored and that Cell ID requests would stop by the end of November, after an update to the messaging system. Quartz's report details a practice in which Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were now servicing a specific device.

Users have always had the choice of stopping tech companies from collecting data on them in exchange to giving up the benefits of certain services. It's also not very reassuring to know the whole cell-tower location data monitoring thing will end later this month. On a routine basis, we discover that apps have been hacked, that they're using our data unethically, or that more information is being shared or tracked than initially realized.


A report Tuesday was a good reminder that no matter what you've done to keep your phone from tracking you, your phone is still tracking you.

The data could theoretically be used to target users with advertising, say who visit a particular store.

Google's privacy policy notes it may collect location information like IP addresses, Global Positioning System and "other sensors" when you use its services.

And as Google and other companies delve deeper into designing and manufacturing their own devices, specifically smartphones, the concept of privacy diminishes and eventually disappears. Those more concerned about privacy may opt to switch off location services, something which is offered within Android and seemingly without any strings attached.

As long as there is a mobile data or Wi-Fi connection, devices will send Google their location when they are in range of a new cellular tower.

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