An exclusive investigation published yesterday by Quartz revealed that Android phones have been tracking users using cell towers since the beginning of 2017, “even when location services are disabled,” sending the information back to Google.
This goes “far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy,” says Quartz.
Even a brand new Android OS phone with no sim card or service plan will report tracking data once the device is connected to a WiFi network or activated.
Even devices that had been reset to factory default settings and apps, with location services disabled, were observed by Quartz sending nearby 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. When Android devices are connected to a WiFi network, they will send the tower addresses to Google even if they don’t have SIM cards installed. –Quartz
In response, Google is ending the data collection by the end of November and offered the following explanation:
“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). 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.”
In addition, what Google didn’t touch on is the fact that they sell ad space to advertisers who want to target customers based on geographic location – through the company’s online AdWorks platform. Without cell-tower data, Google can still use data collected via GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
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