Starting from early 2017, Android phones have been gathering addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending this data back to Google, Quartz reports. There is no way to change how this information is collected even if you have location data turned off on all of the apps on your Android device. These addresses are included in the data that's sent to the Google system that manages messages and push notifications for smartphones running on Android. Google confirmed the practice to Quartz. Google said that it never stored or used the information though. "Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to consider regulations similar to the forthcoming GDPR in the European Union to institute greater transparency around the collection of personal data, including location, and providing a mechanism for users to have greater control over what data gets stored and where". The cellular data and ID codes were being collected in order to help the performance and speed of messages.
The revelation comes as Google and other internet companies are under fire from lawmakers and regulators, including for the extent to which they vacuum up data about users.
When you use Google services, we may collect and process information about your actual location.
It was Quartz that first noticed the unusual location tracking behavior.
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The practice that Google has been employing has potential dangers in that a particularly skilled individual could use multiple cell towers to triangulate someone's location to within or quarter-of-a-mile or closer. That's especially true looking at it from a security perspective, as this cell tower data could be compromised if an Android device were to be stolen.
So, a bad actor could potentially use the data that a person didn't even know was being transmitted to discover a person's general location. The cell tower addresses were part of this information being sent to that system. "It seems quite intrusive for Google to be collecting such information that is only relevant to carrier networks when there are no SIM card or enabled services".
The fact that Google tracks location data for those who think they've protected themselves is quite concerning as far as privacy goes. But apparently, Google is not budging on this issue, even though they are giving other apps like LastPass, a, well, pass. The operating system then sends that location data to Google-meaning that every precaution taken to keep one's location from being tracked is in vain.