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.