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Google admits it tracks us even with location services turned off

Google admits it grabs data on individuals' locations from Android phones with just an internet connection. But Google pledged to stop collecting the information by the end of November. (Timothy A. Clary/ AFP/Getty Images)

Think Google can’t see where you are with its location services turned off?

Google tracks us even if we turn off location services, use no apps, and don’t install a SIM card.

The internet giant now admits it grabs data from Android phones with just an internet connection.

Quartz, a media outlet, explains:

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers — even when location services are disabled — and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

A spokesperson for Google reportedly said it used cell tower data to send push notifications and messages, but did not store the information. Google pledged to stop collecting the information by the end of November after Quartz called them on it.

“Android phones will no longer send cell-tower location data to Google, at least as part of this particular service, which consumers cannot disable,” the spokesperson reportedly said.

Is the information is collected under any other services?

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

In its privacy policy, Google says it uses "various technologies to determine location, including IP address, GPS, and other sensors that may, for example, provide Google with information on nearby devices, Wi-Fi access points and cell towers."

The information is a hot commodity for advertisers. Companies can use phone data to track when someone enters a certain store. In turn, the data is used to send targeted advertising information.

A 2014 Federal Trade Commission report on data brokers showed that consumer information is sold to other parties or used to create profiles on consumers. The data provides a way to categorize and label people (sometimes in unflattering terms) such as: financial newsletter subscriber, allergy sufferer, “financially challenged,” Twitter user with more than 250 friends, and “working-class moms.”

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