Google Caught Recording Android Users’ Location Data

Android Users

So just what we all were thinking about, Yes! Google admits that it was gathering Android user’s location information. The Android devices would collect the addresses of the mobile towers and send the encrypted data back to Google, and guess what? This is happening even when you turn off the location tracking function. This has been going on since January 2017.

It was Quartz that reported first that Google is recording location data, without the user knowing about it.

Late night on Tuesday Quartz reported, “Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they’re connected to the internet”.

In October, several Google Home Mini devices reportedly malfunctioned and recorded audio in the background in the owners’ homes, instead of only waking up when a specific trigger word was used.

It happened like this that last month (October 2017) many of the Google Home Mini devices malfunctioned, and recorded the background audio in the milieu of the owner’s house rather than waking up the user.

This is a major breach of privacy, and Google has admitted that they have been gathering location information. A Google spokesperson was quoted as saying “In January this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.” Google further confirmed that they never used the information nor stored it.

Google sells location data to advertisers, so they can target Android users with contextually relevant ads. However, Google’s spokesperson told Quartz that

Google gives away the location data to advertisers, so they can target those users with relevant content and ads. Nevertheless, Google in a statement to Quartz has said that “This location-data-harvesting system was separate from that one, being focused on messaging services.”

The Google’s privacy policy is something which most users are not clear with. It reads ‘Google’s privacy policy does include the following section on “location information” (below) which states that users of “Google services” may have their location data collected, including mobile tower data. This means Android users who have disabled the tracking feature are still being tracked by the Search engine giant.

This is very unfortunate because taking into account what Google said 7 years ago that street view mapping data was noting people’s WiFi network during as the car went past their property or street. So then there was this misconception that turning off the location feature will block Google from knowing the location details when they already had enough cell tower information.

Now, who blew the whistle, and who stands to gain from this expose is something interesting. Security researchers claim it is one of Google’s nemesis, obviously. Well, Ashkan Soltani, the former chief technologist for the Federal Trade Commission believes Oracle is behind this story. He claims that Oracle had been trying to find someone to put this story across in the past couple of months.

Oracle and Google have a long and fractious history, with the dominant thread being Oracle’s long-running suit against Google over the use of certain Oracle-owned code in Android (long story short: Google won, with courts repeatedly saying its inclusion of the code was “fair use”). The companies also compete in the cloud services market and Oracle has funded several anti-Google pressure groups.

The only connection we see is how Google and Oracle had locked horns, where the latter claims that Android is using Oracle-owned code. Google seems to have won the legal battle on the ground that inclusion of code was “fair use”.

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