This latest privacy breach by Google does little to squash these unsafe claims. Responding to the report, Google pointed out that this was a part of Google experiment to improve message delivery on Android devices and will put an end to it with an update later this month. Google says the practice will stop from November end, it does raise questions around user privacy on Android. "Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers can not disable", the company has said.
The company claims that the data was never incorporated into its systems and was immediately discarded.
Typically with Android devices, users have the option to turn on or off a feature called "location services".
The information from the cell towers could pinpoint a user's location with a quarter-mile radius-an area that could be narrowed down further with multiple tower pings that could better determine a person's location and movements. This data collection is also worrying because in case of a compromised or hacked smartphone, the location could be accessed by third-parties.
Every handset also has a unique ID number that can be associated with the location data. Google said that it never stored or used the information though.
It appears that Google is capable of obtaining location data from any Android device, even when they're switched off, and has been doing it all this year.
Apparently, this was due to the cell towers that receive the signals of their phones, which would then send it to Google. Only law enforcement agencies can have access to it under extreme circumstances. A outcome of that separation is that there was no way an Android user could disable the cellular tower checks using location data privacy settings short of powering down his or her device.
According to the Google spokesperson, the company's system that controls its push notifications and messages is "distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps". The only ways to prevent this transfer of information is through the removal of sim or the turning off of wifi.
In response, Google hasn't disputed the Quartz report, but has downplayed it and said that the data was not being used to target Android users with advertising.
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