Google collects Android user location data even if location services are off

26 November, 2017, 02:07 | Author: Darren Santiago
  • UK, Korean regulators consider Google investigations

South Korea's media regulator said Thursday that it would open an investigation into Google's user data management practices, following news reports confirming the United States tech giant has been secretly collecting users' location data from phones running on the Android operating system.

The KCC or Korea Communications Commission is conducting an inquiry into claims that Google has collected cell ID data of users without their consent even when the smartphones they were using had in inactive location service, said a member of the KCC.

According to a Google spokesperson, the data was not used or stored, and that the company was taking steps to stop the practice by the end of November. Information about the towers where mobile phones send their signals can be used to identify the user's location to within a radius of a few hundred meters.

The issue affected Android phones with Google Play Services running in the background. However, critics have alleged that Google may have sold the massive locational data it had amassed to third parties with marketing and advertisement needs.

Google is facing scrutiny for reportedly collecting data about the location of smartphone users without their knowledge.

Google never incorporated the data into its system, "so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated [the network system] to no longer request Cell ID", the spokesman added. It happens even when a device has no SIM card and when Global Positioning System location services are disabled.

Devices with cellular data or WiFi connection appeared to send data each time they were in range of a new cell tower.

One privacy advocate described the finding as a "betrayal" of users.

Android devices without a SIM card, but connected to a WiFi network, would still send tower addresses to Google. "You can kind of envision any number of circumstances where that could be extremely sensitive information that puts a person at risk". "We tested technology to improve the quality of our message services, and that included a capability that allows sending Google's servers smartphone information that was recently transmitted to towers", Google Korea explained.

According to the Google spokesperson, the company's system that controls its push notifications and messages is "distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps".

"It is really a mystery as to why this is not optional", said Matthew Hickey, a security expert and researcher at Hacker House, a security firm based in London.

Phone networks routinely collect data about where mobile users are, via information recorded from phone masts across the country.

Android phones are the leaders in the global market.

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