Google Admits To Tracking Android Users' Location

Joanna Estrada
November 24, 2017

M - Google has confirmed it has been able to track the location of Android users via the addresses of local mobile phone masts, even when location services were turned off and the sim cards removed to protect privacy, The Guardian reported. Although Google says the cell tower data is encrypted, it doesn't mean it can't be compromised by a hacker.

The ministry stated that it will closely examine whether Google collected and used the location data of Android smartphone users in Korea without obtaining due consent, and also cooperate with other states including the U.S., the European Union and Japan in case an worldwide investigation is needed.

Cell ID codes - data exchanged between a smartphone and a cell tower - can be used to determine roughly where a mobile device is located. An update that removes this cell tower data-collecting feature will roll out by the end of this month, according to Google.

The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users.

Google and Oracle were previously locked in a legal battle over the former's use of the latter's code in Android. Such personal data, ranging from users' political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.

The data was being collected as a part of the Firebase Cloud Messaging, which the app developers and Google use to send notification messages or data messages to the consumers or their own apps, Google told Quartz.

Since January, all Android devices, even with location services disabled, were sending cell-tower addresses to Google. Devices with a cellular data or WiFi connection appear to send the data to Google each time they come within range of a new cell tower.

"To ensure messages and notifications are received quickly, modern Android phones use a network sync system that requires the use of Mobile Country Codes (MCC) and Mobile Network Codes (MNC)", a Google spokesman told Fox News. The term "location services" oftentimes refers to exact Global Positioning System data for app usage, such as Google Maps finding your best commute route, or Uber figuring out exactly where you're standing to let drivers know your pickup point. It's particularly easier to pinpoint a device's location in urban centers where cell towers are more concentrated. "It seems quite intrusive for Google to be collecting such information that is only relevant to carrier networks when there are no SIM card or enabled services".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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