Technology

Android devices still track you when location services are turned off

Android devices still track you when location services are turned off

Regulators in the United Kingdom and South Korea consider launching investigations into Google's (GOOG, GOOGL) practice of collecting location data on smartphone users without permission.

Google's privacy policy notes it may collect location information like IP addresses, Global Positioning System and "other sensors" when you use its services.

In Korea, smartphones running on Google's Android OS, including phones produced by Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are the majority.

"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)", the company said in a statement. That particular feature helps provide a device's specific geographic location to applications on a device. However, critics have alleged that Google may have sold the massive locational data it had amassed to third parties with marketing and advertisement needs.

A source familiar with the matter said it was not used for ad-serving purposes, but rather to improve what Google calls its "heartbeat system", which ensures "that phones remain connected and that people get their messages".

This is not the first time that Google has been caught collecting user data in an unexpected manner. Such personal data, ranging from users' political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.

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Since January, all Android devices, even with location services disabled, were sending cell-tower addresses to Google.

Google said the data was collected to improve notifications and message delivery, and was not stored on Google servers.

"It 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.

When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location.

Basically, Google's explanation suggests the location tracking was done in order to enhance messaging services.

"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", Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher, told media in London. Then as now, Google claimed the data collection had resulted from an inadvertent slip-up.


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