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Android phones track location info regardless of privacy settings

Google says the data wasn't stored and is turning it off.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
November 21, 2017
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Chris Velazco/Engadget

When you tell your phone to stop sharing your location, you expect it to honor your request, don't you? Unfortunately, that hasn't been entirely true with Android as of late. Quartz has confirmed that, starting in early 2017, Android phones have been sending the addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending it back to Google, regardless of your location sharing settings -- even if you didn't have cell service turned on and hadn't used any apps. In theory, Google or an intruder could have triangulated your approximate position using the data for multiple towers.

A Google spokesperson stressed that the tower info, known as Cell ID codes, wasn't being used and was tossed out as soon as it was received. The company had been "looking into" using the data to speed up message delivery. Also, Google has promised to end the behavior. Android phones will stop sending Cell ID by the end of November.

The immediate threat to your privacy wasn't high, then. Google wasn't spying on people, and a hacker wouldn't have found a treasure trove of data sitting on Google's servers. However, the real concern is that Google decided to transmit location info despite your privacy settings, using a service (the network sync system) you couldn't turn off. Simply put, the company wasn't fully respecting your intentions -- you couldn't completely eliminate the risk of location-based surveillance.

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