Friday, 15 December, 2017

Google secretly tracks people even after they've explicitly told it to stop

Android phones still track you when location services are off Android devices seen covertly sending location data to Google
Garry Little | 23 November, 2017, 00:26

In a grim counterpoint to the news that Uber paid hackers $100,000 to keep mum after they stole information on 57 million users, Quartz revealed today that Android phones continue to report location information even while your phone is off.

According to the publication, even when users turn off their location tracker, not use any apps, or even have no SIM card inserted in their devices, the search engine company could still know their location. The cell tower addresses were included in the string of information sent to Google, the same information was used to beam relevant notifications and messages. The spokesperson also said the data wasn't being stored indefinitely and that the company will terminate the practice.

Such data, while not as granular as Global Positioning System data, could still help entities-including Google-triangulate a user's location with considerable accuracy and far beyond any consumer's reasonable expectations of privacy, Quartz said.

Phones using Google's operating system, Android, have been covertly tracking their users' locations, even when a user has turned off their location services.

Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers since the beginning of the year, Quartz said, giving Google access to location information that goes "far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy".

But here is what more interesting, the section of Google's privacy policy that covers location sharing says, "When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location".

"This is an admission of a breach of all the systems enabled by the company", said Dr Abdulrazaq al-Morjan, an information security and digital forensics expert based in Saud Arabia. It's unclear exactly how tracking the addresses of cell towers could improve the delivery of messages. "They should immediately explain how and why they were doing this, assure us that the data is now deleted, won't be collected in future and state how many people's data and in which countries was collected". However, the problem is that Google tracks the locations of users who turned off location services and even those who didn't have a SIM card in their devices.

There are any number of reasons a person would not want to share their location data, and Google's practice of collecting cell tower data without explicit permission could potentially put users at risk of harm. Google Play Services are required to access numerous search giant's apps and the framework is pre-installed on a majority of Android smartphones targeted at consumers.

Google has admitted that it has been collecting the data from Android phones for the last 11 months, Quartz reported.

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".

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