While we love Android so much for its easy and vast customization features smartphones running the OS have reportedly been gathering users' location data and sending it to Google. The scary part is that Google seems to be collecting user location data even when the location services are turned off and even when there is no SIM card in the device.
As per a new report from Quartz who basically conducted the investigation on this matter has claimed that the case was true and the location tracking did occur on Android smartphones even if users took precautionary measures. The publication further reveals that Android devices send the details when the device is connected to the Internet.
The report notes that the user location data tracking has been going on since early 2017.
Till date, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers-even when location services are disabled-and sending that data back to Google. Quartz has further said that Google confirmed the practice.
A Google spokesperson has told Quartz that the company has been collecting cell tower addresses to "manage push notifications and messages on Android devices for roughly 11 months." The spokesperson has clarified that the user location data was never stored. Now that Quartz has approached Google on this matter the spokesperson has assured that the company will stop collecting user location data in the form of cell-tower location by the end of November. "Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers cannot disable," the company has said.
Google spokesperson has also sent a mail to the publication and it reads, "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."
The report adds that even if the data sent to Google was encrypted, it could have been compromised. Besides, the location-sharing practice was not limited to any particular type of Android phone or tablet; Google was apparently collecting cell tower data from all modern Android devices before being contacted by Quartz.
At such juncture, we don't the exact use case of the location tracking but with this new report, it does raise a lot of questions on user privacy. This could be quite troublesome for people who would like to maintain some privacy and that they do not want to be tracked.