It has been revealed that Android smartphones continue to send device owners’ locations to Google, even if location services are turned off and a SIM card isn’t inserted.
An investigation by Quartz found that Android devices that are setup not to send data to Google continue to gather data about people’s locations, and will then send that data back to Google once they eventually connect to the internet.
It was found that this was due to the Google collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers and this data being sent back to the tech giant. This practice has been in place since the beginning of the year and, according to Google, these addresses have been used in the same system used it uses to manage push notifications and messages on Android. The company says the data has never been used or stored, and it is planning on ending the practice by the end of the month.
“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,” a Google spokesperson told Quartz. “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.”
The practice that Google has been employing has potential dangers in that a particularly skilled individual could use multiple cell towers to triangulate someone’s location to within or quarter-of-a-mile or closer. In addition to that, there’s the fact that Google has been breaching the trust of all of its users that choose not to share their location, some of which could have legal reasons for not sharing their locations.