Google Has Been Collecting Android Device Location Even When Location Services Are Turned Off

Pixel 2 XL front

Some smartphone owners don’t want to be tracked, so turning off location services is an easy way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Or it’s meant to, at least.

According to a report from Quartz, Google has made it so that Android devices continue to share their location even when location services on the device are turned off. According to the report, this has been the case for all modern Android devices since the early part of 2017.

“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.”

The information being collected, even when location services are turned off, is addresses of nearby cellular towers. In these situations, the Android device provides that new address every time it connects to a different cellular tower. But the Android device doesn’t need to have a SIM card in it, either, for the location to be shared — because when the device is not connected to the cellular network, it will share the device location when it connects to Wi-Fi.

According to the report, a change in Firebase Cloud Messaging, which Google owns and uses to send notifications to devices, is where this stems from. However, Google says that it will stop this type of device location collecting from Android devices by the end of November of this year.

[via Quartz]