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Android devices have been secretly sending users’ location to Google


Research found Android devices collect cell-tower detail of the nearest phone mast

This continues even when no SIM card is inserted into a device

As a result Google has access to data about users’ location even when the setting is disabled on their devices


It is a well-known fact that smartphones are capable of tracking their users’ whereabouts. But a recent investigation carried out by Quartz reveals Google has been collecting information about the location of Android users via local mobile phone masts.

A cell-tower location sent to Google
A cell-tower location sent to Google from an Android device (Credit: Quartz)

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Modern Android devices started capturing unique addresses (called Cell ID) of local mobile phone masts at the beginning of 2017, routinely sending them to Google. This happens even when location service setting has been turned off and even when the SIM card was removed, raising some serious privacy concerns.

A spokesman for Google in an email to Quartz said: “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.”

A cell-tower location sent to Google from an Android device
A cell-tower location sent to Google from an Android device with location service turned-off and carried in Washington DC (Credit: Quartz)

How collecting these information exactly improved service delivery for Google is unclear but through triangulation, the location of a user can be narrowed down to within a 400 metre radius, and even more accurately in urban areas.

Google though has maintained that Cell ID data collected was never stored, and that Cell ID requests would stop by the end of November after a messaging system upgrade.

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[Featured photo: REUTERS/Stephen Lam]

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Akin A
A MUFC fan with serious love for gadgets and all things tech. Not the movie-loving type, more like the kinda guy you'll see with a PS4 controller. I like good music - any type, as long as it sounds good. Oh and I'm a very picky eater too. Apart from science and tech, I follow all kinda stuff in politics, sports, business and entrepreneurship.

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