Google collected user data through cell tower for 11 months

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The report claimed that even though information about a single cell tower cannot be used to track an individual, a group of cell-towers can be used to triangulate a person's location quite accurately.

According to an investigation by Quartz, the publication observed Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending the encrypted data back to Google, allowing the company to roughly track the locations and movements of users with these phones.

Further, he added that the location data was never used or stored and Google meant to end this practice by the end of November.

According to a Google spokesperson, per the report, the idea is to use the Cell ID codes as an additional signal to improve the speed and performance of message delivery, but the data was never used or stores.

Google says it will push an Android update by the end of this month that stops collecting cell tower data and removes the feature altogether from updated devices.

Even as the widening debate on encryption and fundamental right to privacy continues to die down, the latest report on Google's location data collection may come as a shocker for many.

Google cell tower data collection on Android
Android devices seen covertly sending location data to Google

Google's privacy policy notes it may collect location information like IP addresses, Global Positioning System and "other sensors" when you use its services. Large-scale tracking efforts like this might be invasive, but they're likely to become more and more common as the biggest tech companies seek out new ways to monetize their user base.

A 3D printed Android mascot Bugdroid is seen in front of a Google logo in this illustration taken July 9, 2017. However, while looking at one tower wouldn't give an exact location, cross-referencing several towers does give a fairly precise indication of where the device is. Also, it said that the unnecessary data was merely thrown away, and wasn't used without the consent of smartphone owners.

A spokesperson told The Verge that the cellular tower data was supposed to make message delivery faster, but Google chose to ditch the plan.

Google also states that this is "distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device's location to apps" which is why, apparently, this is okay.

It's important to note here that the examples supplied by Google refer to specific apps like Google Maps as opposed to the Android OS, and the Wi-Fi access and cell tower link only mentions those who have Location Services enabled on their devices.

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