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.”
imagine if it was Huawei or Oppo that had been found to be transmitting location data with no opt-out or notification for a year https://t.co/rMFoEex8QV— now, upon further reflection, tweting remains bad (@alexhern) November 21, 2017
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.