“Since 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.” states Quartz.
The Firebase Cloud Messaging service is the component responsible for collecting location data that manages push notifications and messages on the operating system, unfortunately it cannot be disabled.
“Even devices that had been reset to factory default settings and apps, with location services disabled, were observed by Quartz sending nearby cell-tower addresses to Google.” continues Quartz media.
“Devices with a cellular data or WiFi connection appear to send the data to Google each time they come within range of a new cell tower. When Android devices are connected to a WiFi network, they will send the tower addresses to Google even if they don’t have SIM cards installed.”
Quartz contacted Google for a comment and a spokesman for the company replied that the location-sharing practice was implemented to improve its service.
“We began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.” said Google spokesperson.
“It has pretty concerning implications,” explained Bill Budington, a software engineer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “You can kind of envision any number of circumstances where that could be extremely sensitive information that puts a person at risk.”
According to the experts there is no doubt, the fact that the Google Android system is collecting location data is a complete violation of user’s privacy.
“We use various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points, and cell towers.”
Google declared that never used or stored this location data it collected and that it is now taking steps to end this practice.
According to Google, Android phones will no longer collect location data by the end of this month.
(Security Affairs – location data, Google)