Google recklessly collected location info from unaware Android users for months on end

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How much freedom and privacy should you be allowed when buying into Apple, Microsoft or Google’s electronic “ecosystem?” It’s an age-old debate, and while most web surfers on the world’s leading mobile and desktop operating systems can live with the occasional online behavior analysis, cookie collecting and location tracking, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Uber just managed to enrage tens of millions of riders and drivers after admitting their personal info was breached more than a year ago. Adding insult to injury, the massive hack was covered up all this time.

Similar attacks succeeded in the past due to the weak security of various apps and services, leaving users exposed to everything from identity theft to actual property theft. Fortunately, we’re not aware of anything like that happening to Google recently, which could have been especially damaging in the context of a newly revealed location monitoring policy.

It appears that the search giant has been collecting something called Cell ID data from Android users since the beginning of 2017 without publicly disclosing the dubious practice. In a nutshell, the whereabouts of every active Android phone and tablet in the world were tracked even with location services disabled and no carrier SIM card inserted.

Every time a Google-powered mobile device went online, even through a Wi-Fi connection, the address of a nearby cellular tower was sent to a Mountain View server, though Alphabet’s daughter company claims the “data was immediately discarded.” Its purported goal was to “further improve the speed and performance of message delivery”, i.e. push notifications, but Cell ID code gathering was never actually incorporated into Google’s “network sync system.”

That’s not exactly comforting to hear, as the practice should have never been considered in the first place. It’s also not very reassuring to know the whole cell-tower location data monitoring thing will end later this month. Well, it is, but it certainly looks like Google is only backing away after being caught red-handed crossing a privacy line.

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About The Author
Adrian Diaconescu
Adrian has had an insatiable passion for writing since he was in school and found himself writing philosophical essays about the meaning of life and the differences between light and dark beer. Later, he realized this was pretty much his only marketable skill, so he first created a personal blog (in Romanian) and then discovered his true calling, which is writing about all things tech (in English).