but surely, Americans have been conditioned to give up any
expectations of privacy in the name of public safety and/or for simple
technological conveniences. However, there remains, even today,
a tiny sliver of the population that would prefer to not have their
every movement tracked no matter how antiquated that makes them look.
Be that as it may, per a recent discovery from Quartz,
those old-school folks better hope they haven't been using an Android
device for the past 11 months.
people realize that smartphones track their locations. But
what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any
apps, and haven’t even inserted a carrier SIM card?
if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android
software gather data about your location and send it back to
Google when they’re connected to the internet,a Quartz
investigation has revealed.
the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the
addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services
are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The
result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has
access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that
go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.
observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which
confirmed the practice.
course, the company that has been collecting your location data for
nearly a year now without your knowledge, would like for you to know
that you shouldn't worry too much about your privacy because they can
assure you the data
was never "used or stored" and was only
collected to help
"improve the speed and performance of message delivery"....
cell tower addresses have been included in information sent to the
system Google uses to manage push notifications and messages on
Android phones for the past 11 months, according to a Google
spokesperson. They were never used or
stored, the spokesperson said, and the company is now taking steps
to end the practice after being contacted by Quartz. By the end of
November, the company said, Android phones will no longer send
cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this
particular service, which consumers cannot disable.
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. “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.”
wireless carriers haven't quite figured out yet how to efficiently
route data streams through network nodes just yet...
is not clear how cell-tower addresses, transmitted as a data string
that identifies a specific cell tower, could have been used to
improve message delivery. But the privacy implications of the covert
location-sharing practice are plain. While information about a
single cell tower can only offer an approximation of where a mobile
device actually is, multiple towers can be used to triangulate its
location to within about a quarter-mile radius, or to a more exact
pinpoint in urban areas, where cell towers are closer together.
practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked,
especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of
domestic abuse who turn off location services thinking they’re fully
concealing their whereabouts. Although the data sent to Google is
encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third party if the
phone had been compromised with spyware or other methods of hacking.
Each phone has a unique ID number, with which the location data can
has pretty concerning implications,” said
Bill Budington, a software engineer who works for the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for
digital privacy. “You
can kind of envision any number of circumstances where that could
be extremely sensitive information that puts a person at risk.”
is really a mystery as to why this is not optional,” said
Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher at Hacker House, a
security firm based in London. “It
seems quite intrusive for Google to be collecting such information
that is only relevant to carrier networks when there are no SIM
card or enabled services.”
course, if their excuse for this gross invasion of privacy is even
remotely true, then we look forward Google's follow-up report to
Android users detailing precisely how much faster their text messages
are now than before...we won't hold our breath.