An investigation revealed that Android-based smartphones track users’ location and beam the data to Google servers whenever the user connects to the Internet. The practice has been ongoing since at least the start of 2017.
As a result, Google’s parent company Alphabet whose original moto was ‘Don’t be Evil,’ has access to consumer data that is at odds with users’ privacy expectations. After Quartz contacted the company to discuss the data collection, Google confirmed the findings.
Google: Android Phones’ Location Data Was Never Stored
Google acknowledged that smartphones have been collecting cell tower addresses and sending the data to its servers for the past 11 months. The practice reportedly enables the company to better manage messages and push notification on the smartphones.
A spokesperson for Google said the data was never stored and promised to end the practice. Google pledged to put an end to the data collection by the end of the month, or at least not beam back home cell tower data, a service that Android users cannot shut down.
The spokesperson said that the Cell ID data was required to enhance the speed of message delivery, but the data collected was “immediately discarded” and the network sync system was recently instructed to no longer request it.
Quartz experts couldn’t tell how cell tower addresses could have improved an IM service. But it is crystal clear that the practice has broad privacy implications. Experts explained that a single cell tower can only offer an approximate location of a smartphone user, but with three towers in range and a method called triangulation, that user’s location can be easily spotted. This could be common practice in urban areas where cell towers are denser.
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