Google collected user data through cell tower for 11 months

Camille Francis
November 24, 2017

Many users enable location settings on their phone to allow this data to be logged while they are using it.

Android phone users may turn off their location services settings, take out their SIM card or restore their device to factory settings, but Google still collects their location data, according to a new report.

"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", the Google spokesperson said in an email.

Cell ID data only provides an approximate location of a mobile device, not a precise Global Positioning System location.

In comparison, Cell ID doesn't access the Global Positioning System and therefore doesn't and can't log any location coordinates.

Whether the collected data was ultimately used or not, the point is that users weren't told about it - it is not mentioned in the section of Google's privacy policy that covers location sharing.

"However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system [the system that delivers messages and notifications to your phone], so that data was immediately discarded, and we have updated it to no longer request Cell ID".

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Google in its terms of use for its services vaguely refers, "When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location".

MCCs and MNCs only provide a country code and network code, which are not precise locations, and are used by all phones that connect to the Wi-Fi and cellular networks. However, while these apps typically require the user's permission, there is now evidence that Android phones might be sending information back to Google without explicit authorization. Triangulating between cell towers will reveal a device's location to a high degree of accuracy, especially in urban areas where towers are more common.

Location services can be really useful. Google said that the data was encrypted, but at the heart of the matter is that some people have every right not to be tracked and others have a good reason why they don't want to be found. MCC and MNC codes are the only codes that are recorded and sent to Google.

The move by Google also does not appear to be limited to any particular type of Android phone or tablet; Google was apparently collecting cell tower data from all modern Android devices before being contacted by Quartz.

The company has confirmed that a system update will ensure Cell ID information is no longer requested from the phone from the end of the month. Which is the right thing to do.

This is not the first time that data collection concerns have been raised as more companies seem to be hoovering up unnecessary amounts of information that breach its user's privacy.

Other reports by My Hot News

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