After one year, Google finally admitted they were receiving location data from Android phones even when the location services setting was disabled on them or they didn’t have a SIM card to begin with. #securemagic, indeed!
Since January, Google has been steadily tracking user locations by triangulating cell towers supporting mobile devices. This means that when the device was connected to the Internet, whether location services were on or not, Google received encrypted data for its Firebase Cloud Messaging. Apparently, Google used that data only to improve the service, since devices have to ping the server routinely to receive the messages in time.
In the end, the company discarded the data coming from the cell towers and changed the plan. The problem with its admission, nearly a year later, is the fact that that kind of data belongs only to carrier networks. It’s normally not shared with other companies, unless dire circumstances call for it.
Normally, the average Joe doesn’t have state secrets to hide, but let’s not forget that law enforcement officers do. Also, physical abuse victims use the same standard devices as the rest of us, devices that could be tracked by violent people. Plus, it’s a clear temptation for hackers everywhere. The only way they would have been protected against this information transfer was by using a burner phone.
Now, that everything is out in the open, Google is making amends by rolling out an update to remove cell tower data-collecting. This should happen by the end of the month. Still, it’s hard to forget that one of the most important tech companies out there, with a pretty good reputation, just decided to not give its users the chance to opt-out of process.