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Google has been tracking Android users even when location services are disabled

By midian182 · 30 replies
Nov 21, 2017
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  1. While we know Google uses our handsets to monitor location data, one would imagine that turning off location services stops this practice. But according to an investigation by Quartz, phones running Android software not only track users when the feature is disabled, but they also know where you are even if you haven’t used any apps and don’t have a SIM card inserted.

    The report states that Android handsets have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending the data back to Google since the start of this year. These addresses are included in information sent to the system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages. The company has confirmed that it does engage in this practice, but it will stop by the end of November.

    “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,” said a Google spokesperson. “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.”

    Quartz notes that while a single cell tower can’t give a precise location of a device, multiple towers could triangulate a location to within a quarter mile radius. Google may claim it doesn’t use the information, but that's unlikely to be much comfort to those who assumed turning off location services put a complete stop to tracking activities.

    Devices were found to send location data to Google whenever they came within range of a new cell tower, and even those without SIM cards would transmit the information once they were connected to a Wi-Fi network. There’s no way to opt out of the practice, so be thankful that it’s coming to an end soon.

    Permalink to story.

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 21, 2017
  2. trparky

    trparky TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +264

    No s**t Sherlock! I could have told you that!!! Google's whole purpose of being in business is to collect and sell your data! And worst of all, Android is the Trojan horse that Google used to get all of you hooked into their massive data collection systems and all of you fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
    regiq and JaredTheDragon like this.
  3. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,354   +1,135

    So what do you suggest I use instead? Pay over double the price for iOS? Or maybe switch to Windows Phone?
    JaredTheDragon and Reehahs like this.
  4. trparky

    trparky TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +264

    I really do not understand why people have this notion in their heads that iPhones are more expensive because it's not true.

    Samsung Note 8, sold at Verizon for... oh crap, $960!!! That's right! $960 outright, up front cost if you were to buy it without going through their loan program (Source). And let's look at the price of a Samsung Galaxy S8+, its full retail cost is $840 (Source). The regular Galaxy S8 is priced at $756 (Source). Oh, I know... you're going to tell me that these costs are just for Samsung phones. Right? Nope. The Google Pixel 2 costs $649 (Source) and the Google Pixel 2 XL costs $849 (Source).

    What do all of these Android phones have in common with iPhones? Oh yeah... the price!!! So the notion that iPhones are somehow more expensive than their Android cousins is completely and utterly FALSE!!!

    So if I were in the market to buy a top of the line flagship smartphone device that costs nearly $800 there's no question in my mind that I'm going to buy the Apple iPhone because at least when you buy an iPhone you get the support behind it. Guaranteed software updates, the ability to call Apple if and when you need help, or even the ability to walk into any Apple Store with a broken phone and walk out that same day with a new phone in hand. Meanwhile in the Android world if you have a broken phone you have to go through that hell that's known as Asurion which all of the major carriers in the US use as their insurance company. Yeah... suddenly Android doesn't look so good anymore.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
    Kenrick likes this.
  5. Theinsanegamer

    Theinsanegamer TS Evangelist Posts: 1,373   +1,507

    Sadly, WP is dead, although being under MS's control wouldnt really be much of a privacy improvement.

    I really wish either firefox phone or ubuntu phone had caught on right now.
    regiq, JaredTheDragon and Darth Shiv like this.
  6. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,354   +1,135

    Well, it kinda is true, you've picked out the two most expensive Android phones. They're not even the best phones in the Android Market yet you've picked them anyway.

    How about those of us who are mere mortal's and don't want to spend any more than £500 on a phone? OnePlus 5T? Sony Xperia XZ1? In fact, loads of Android Phones, apart from the Samsung's and Google's own vision, can be had for under £500.

    So I ask you again, If I don't want to spend a small fortune on a phone, where do I go? iOS is clearly out of the question, Windows Phone is out of the question and as @Theinsanegamer pointed out, Firefox and Ubuntu Phone OS's never caught on.

    Edit: Before you come back to me with "get an iPhone second hand" or "get the silly little SE instead" or something to that effect, think about those options very carefully.
    orondf, senketsu and Reehahs like this.
  7. trparky

    trparky TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +264

    How the hell can you say that? I mentioned Samsung phones, they have some of the best damn hardware you can buy!!! The best processors, the best screens, the best cameras, the best damn everything that the Android world has to offer!!! There is no other device on the planet that can go toe to toe with a Samsung other than quite possibly an iPhone. Samsung simply represents the pinnacle of what the Android world has to offer, nobody else can touch them in the premium hardware department.
  8. trparky

    trparky TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +264

    Go big or go home. I have always been of the opinion that you buy the best hardware you can get at the time you're buying even if it's a little more expensive because in the end it will pay off. I say the same thing about desktop computers, get the best processor (Intel Core i7) and the most amount of RAM you can get right from beginning or else you're just screwing yourself in the long run.

    Again it comes back to the point where I say... go big or go home.
  9. hkhan1989

    hkhan1989 TS Enthusiast Posts: 31   +24

    But what is the price for the cheapest phone they sell?

    I use a Xiaomi Mi A1 which cost me £160 (GBP) - dual sim Android One phone (Xiaomi and Google worked together on this phone). Mid range specs which is more than enough for most people.

    iPhones closest comparative phone sells for £350, and uses really old hardware which makes the phone useless for my needs.

    Now, I'm not condoning Google for this privacy invasion, but let's be honest, everyone keeps their location data on as we always use their features.

    - Google's many services from Maps to Location based searches.
    - iPhone users use Google Services too, and Siri also uses location to help with their searches.

    Point being, mine is always on (as with most people I know) so there is no violation for us.
    The violation is for people who choose to disable the location based services.

    Most major companies have been under fire for privacy breaches just like this, I'm just thankful there are independent analysts who are always analysing and checking these devices - for if they didn't I'm certain there would be a lot more privacy breaches.

    As long as google rectify it, it will be forgotten about - never be a fanboy, all companies want our money! we are customers, don't sell their phones for them, GOD I hate fanboys!
    Impudicus, orondf, senketsu and 2 others like this.
  10. Nobina

    Nobina TS Evangelist Posts: 1,669   +1,138

    So by your logic most of the world shouldn't even have a phone or a computer because they can't afford the best hardware. How stupid is that? Can you also explain how are you screwing yourself in the long run if you don't buy the best hardware possible and why a person shouldn't buy a phone according to his needs but spend $1000 on a phone with features he won't use? I haven't read something this moronic in a while.
    Impudicus, orondf, regiq and 4 others like this.
  11. trparky

    trparky TS Evangelist Posts: 379   +264

    But it doesn't have a ton of RAM, it only has 4 GB of RAM which is bare minimum to run Android these days. To have an experience even close to being decent you need at least 6 or 8 GBs of RAM to do the kinds of heavy multitasking that people expect from an Android device. The camera is an OK camera, based upon reviews of the device the camera falls flat in low light conditions. The camera alone is a major negative in my book. The screen is only a 1080p screen which when compared to that of other Android devices it's not that great, most people expect at the very least 2K resolution minimum, 4K if possible.

    Then save up for good hardware. I'm about to build a new desktop but I need at minimum $2000 USD to build the system that I want. Intel Core i7 8700K (if I can get my hands on one, Ryzen if not), nVidia GTX 1080 (quite possible 1080Ti), a half Terabyte SSD, 32 GBs of RAM, and liquid cooling for the processor to overclock it. Yes, this machine will be expensive but it will last five to six years, it will stand the test of time. I overbuild for my needs so as to get the most bang for my dollar because in the end, spending a little more now will result in a machine that will last quite possibly half a decade or more.
  12. Billy Vinson

    Billy Vinson TS Enthusiast Posts: 54   +34

    GOOGLE started off as the INTERNAL Search Engine for the NSA. It then went public... Of course they are always tracking.
    regiq likes this.
  13. Reehahs

    Reehahs TS Guru Posts: 712   +449

    What have you been smoking?
    Impudicus and gusticles41 like this.
  14. gusticles41

    gusticles41 TS Guru Posts: 307   +333

    iPhone users don't recall this? -Link-
    Burty117 and regiq like this.
  15. ShagnWagn

    ShagnWagn TS Guru Posts: 453   +298

    I wouldn't say "fell for it" as I have always assumed they steal your data whether you agree to their product or not. The "do not share" button is fake and most likely to try giving us some sort of warm fuzzy. A form of false advertisement.

    Such is the way the cell industry has gone - they feel they are entitled to steal anything from you and off your phone that they please. I hate government control, but they need to stop in and slap some heavy fines on these companies. Not heavy compared to the common person, but heavy to the company's size itself. Make it a percentage.
    Danny101 likes this.
  16. JaredTheDragon

    JaredTheDragon TS Guru Posts: 460   +302

    I mean it's the NSA's very own company, so what did people really expect? At least Apple resides in Langley, like a classy broad would.

    RIP WinPhone. Sure, Microsoft's no better about privacy, but at least their OS wasn't a sloppy mess.
  17. 98hlkjahe

    98hlkjahe TS Rookie

    Thats just you throwing out perfectly viable options arbitrarily. If you don't want an iPhone because you just don't like them then fine, go with that, don't try to explain every little thing away as if it makes some kind of factual empirical sense. Its your opinion, man up and stand by it.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,559   +671

    Pretty sure Apple is just as bad. Doesn’t really matter we are all carrying around little tracking devices. It tracks your searches, locations, hell it probably tracks your discussions, and not just the ones through your phone. There is no such thing as privacy if you have a “smartphone”.
    regiq and senketsu like this.
  19. centrino207

    centrino207 TS Booster Posts: 160   +10

    May be better of installing Brave has the browser or using VPN.

    Only other thing is getting Linux phone.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,559   +671

    That only does so much and there are a lot of inconveniences with that. You pay for convenience, in more ways than one.
  21. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 828   +554

    Buys phone, tries to do something on it:
    must make Samsung Account, reads terms, in no other universe than the phone/computer one would I ever agree to what I have to agree to, to have the darn thing work.
    must make Google Account, reads terms, same as Samsung Account, they own everything I do say, type, etc...
    try and download a free Google Playstore app, they want my credit card info
    every app I open requires access to everything else on the entire phone (somehow) required for it to work.
    GPS is default set on at high accuracy, default upload (sync) to the Cloud, not sure if it's the Google Cloud, Samsung Cloud or Microsoft Cloud (Word, Excel etc) WTF
    we all know the amount of malfeasance on the web, the above doesn't even consider that!
  22. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 828   +554

    People often mention using things like TOR or plug-ins or what-have-you. I was reading an article on how web users are "fingerprinted" (they need to know it is You so they can build the info they want to sell). Ironically, the more unique the signature your computer has (by using stuff the majority does not) the easier you are fingerprinted. The way to stay lowest on the radar is to not stand out, I.e. use the same stuff everyone else does. For example I am playing around with Ghostery and uBlock Origin on Microsoft Edge browser (yes, it now has plug--ins) but in my attempt to be free of tracking, I have now made my browser stand out from the millions of other Edge users making it easier to track me.
    Use a VPN I hear people say. I read the best ones are paid, how do I know I can trust them, especially if I have to 'reveal' myself to pay them.
    Why, if you play with my snail mail can you end up in jail, but all of the above is o.k.? The non-tech folks have no or little, very little idea of what is going on, online. The people I know, they are afraid to use a credit card online, that's about it. Everything else is o.k. for them. They don't realize that at some of the places they shop, for example, have been hacked and their name, address, credit card number and more is already gone....
    regiq likes this.
  23. regiq

    regiq TS Addict Posts: 203   +80

    Why there's the notion that apple and microsoft don't do this kind of things? Technicalities may differ, but it's all in their TOSes.
    They can, it's profitable, so they live of your data. It's a whole new economy.
  24. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 828   +554

    absolutely, an underground economy that in its legal form is reprehensible much less the criminals of this economy that hack everything from credit card numbers, information or any device on the Internet of Things. I call it underground because your average citizen has little to no idea of what is going on.
  25. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,354   +1,135

    It was in response to his message specifically since he stated everyone should have the best and nothing else. An old Second Hand iPhone is not that, it also isn't support as long. The SE you're right, is viable, but as per his comment, it's not the best you can get in the world so not an option either. I was trying to abide by his rules which apparently, only equals the latest iPhone.
    That was my point, They all do these kind of things, that's why I responded to the crazy iPhone fanatic.

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