The term “location services” oftentimes points to exact GPS data for app usage, such as Google Maps discovering your best commute route, or Uber figuring out precisely where you’re standing to let operators know your pickup point. News report details a training in which Google was able to track user locations by triangulating which cell towers were currently maintaining a specific device.
Since January, all kinds of Android phones and tablets have been gathering the addresses of nearby cellular towers and transferring the encrypted data to Google’s push notifications and messaging management system when connected to the internet. It’s a work that customers can’t opt out of even if their phones are factory reset.
A Google spokesperson said in a declaration to News that all modern Android phones use a network sync system that wants mobile country codes and mobile network codes, so tower info called “Cell ID” codes were reflected an “additional signal to further increase the speed and performance of message delivery.” Google finally discarded the cell tower data and didn’t go through with the original plan.
A source common to the matter stated that Google added the cell tower data-collecting feature to increase its Firebase Cloud Messaging, where devices have to ping the server at regular intervals in order to receive communications promptly.
The findings are remarkable, given that cell tower data is usually held by carrier networks and only shared with outside associations under extreme circumstances. Through Google’s practices this year, an individual’s appropriate location within a quarter-mile radius or less could be concluded with the addresses of multiple cell towers. This has critical security implications for individuals who wish to not be tracked, expecting that the safest way to avoid being tracked at all is apparently to stick to burner phones. It could also create a bigger target for hackers looking to obtain personal information.