Android is Always Tracking You

Posted on November 21, 2017 by Mehedi Hassan in Cloud, Mobile, Android with 21 Comments

Google Pixel Preview

It’s no secret that Google has a lot of data about every single one of its customers. The search engine giant has been part of many privacy-related controversies in the past, but the firm kept pushing it’s messaging around protecting user privacy for a while now. A new investigation by Quartz, however, reveals the sad truth about one of Google’s key products, Android: it’s always tracking you.

“Modern” Android phones apparently have been tracking users since the beginning of this year — even when they have all the location services disabled. Android leverages the location of nearby cell towers in order to acquire users’ approximate location data, which is then sent to Google services without the user’s consent. Google claims the company is using the location data for faster message delivery, and that the location data was never actually stored on its services. The company isn’t detailing how exactly the user’s location data helps with faster message delivery on Android phones, so we pretty much just have to trust their words and hope that none of the location data is being stored on its servers. To be fair though, the location data acquired by Android devices for faster message delivery isn’t your exact location, but the data could potentially be interfered by a middleman which would pose greater threats to the user’s privacy.

“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. 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. MCC and MNC provide necessary network information for message and notification delivery and are distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device’s location to apps,” a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo. The report from Gizmodo interestingly claims that Google actually implemented this system to help improve the battery life of Android devices, as they would no longer need to locate the nearby cell towers as often when the location data is collected, but the firm didn’t even release the feature.

Google says the company will be rolling out a new update for Android devices that will get rid of this feature by the end of this month, which is certainly quite reassuring.

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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Android is Always Tracking You”

  1. Winner

    Also tracking you without as much transparency as Google, and also selling your data, something that Google does not do:

    • Credit bureaus
    • Other data aggregators
    • Credit card companies
    • ISPs
    • Wireless carriers
  2. jdawgnoonan

    Google apps constantly bug me about the places I take photos, the people I take them with, and the places that I am nearby. I am tired of having to turn off all of the notifications and am close to leaving all Google apps. I don’t need apps and OSes hounding me.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to jdawgnoonan:

      That's the cost you accept for not paying for the products or even not paying enough that your purchase is the revenue stream to justify its existence.

      You want to get rid of spyware disguised as a "free" application? Be willing to go back to paying real money for software. And I don't mean $1.99 for an app rather than just grabbing the best rated "free" one. I mean going back to the days when software cost more than a latte.

  3. melinau

    Anybody surprised?

  4. jimchamplin

    Users will never receive this update.

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  6. dontbe evil

    no surprise, classic scroogle style

  7. Stooks

    Golf Clap for Paul and going ALLLLLL IN with Google.

  8. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    This is just silly FUD by the tech media.

    Firebase Cloud Message, formerly known as Google Cloud Message, can use cell towers to calculate or improve the latency of their push notifications.

    There's also no evidence that Google is using FCM to track users, violate their privacy, breach their security, or "sell their data to the highest bidder".

    I wish tech bloggers/journalists did an ounce of research these days. But it's far easier to use fear mongering and clickbait to earn more clicks

  9. James Wilson

    Google says the company will be rolling out a new update for Android devices that will get rid of this feature by the end of this month, which is certainly quite reassuring.

    This is a joke right? They know that only Pixel phones get updates...

    • offTheRecord

      In reply to James_Wilson:

      If this can be removed via an update and it has only been an issue since the beginning of this year, then presumably, only Android phones that were getting updates at the beginning of this year would be impacted by this in the first place. So it's not like this is an issue with every Android phone ever made, but only being fixed in those still getting updates (you know, like KRACK). If a phone wasn't still getting updates at the beginning of the year, then that phone (presumably) wouldn't have to worry about this issue.

  10. Mcgillivray

    I joined the Google Guides for reviewing places. It tracks you every where you go - and you can even log into your profile any time - and it will show you all the businesses you were near or went to any specific time, and ask if you'd like to review them. Not everyone is fine with that - but no issue here.

  11. MikeGalos

    Anyone surprised should remember that virtually ALL of Alphabet's revenue comes from gathering information about their users to sell to their customers in whatever aggregation their customer wants.

    Anyone forgetting that has missed the entire point of why Google products and services are offered to you at or below cost and was ignorant of the the trade they chose to make when signing up with Google or using their products.

    • Winner

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      They don't sell the info to their customers.

      They use the information to better place relevant ads for their customers.

      That's a big difference.

      • reason42

        In reply to Winner:

        The customer are those buying advert space.

        The Google users are not the customer - the users are the product, along with the information they generate, that Google is selling to advertisers!

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to Winner:

        Of course they sell the information. They provide whatever level of targeting their customer is willing to pay for. Do they send them your name? No. Do they narrow it down to the point that the customer can identify you if they want? Certainly.

  12. wshwe

    People that don't want to be tracked shouldn't use cell phones!