It’s already pretty much everyday news that many companies track their users, often disguising their monetary objectives with some noble, yet doubtful intentions. So it’s absolutely not surprising that even those who are not too keen on technology – and are certainly not privacy experts – know that one of the biggest data snoopers is Google.
The Californian tech giant already had its share of privacy-related cases in the past, some of them related to location trackers. As a matter of fact, location tracking is the reason behind the latest case involving Google and their questionable user tracking practices: as Quartz Media exposed, the company’s Android devices continuously send location data about their users, even when they don’t have a SIM card inserted.
A Confirmed Practice Soon to Be Abandoned
Before jumping to conclusions, there is one thing that needs to be clear: Google never denied the use of location tracking practices. And how was the whole thing achieved?
The method was fairly easy: every time an Android device got in the range of a cell tower, it registered the device’s current location and sent the data to Google. According to the findings of Quartz, this location tracking has been in effect since January 2017, but recently a spokesperson from Google confirmed that this practice will soon come to an end. The same person also told Quartz that the collected data was never used by the company, even though it was intended to “further improve the speed and performance of message delivery” – something users usually appreciate. What was unclear from the very beginning however, is how we were supposed to benefit from Google’s location tracking.
Whether such data was used or not doesn’t matter now. What does raise some concerns, however, is that if a smartphone or tablet happened to have been compromised by some hacker, the gathered data could have easily been sent to a third party. Although the data sent by smart devices is encrypted, there are appropriate tools to decrypt it. Additionally, each Android device has a unique ID number, so it’s more than possible to associate the collected location data with the owner of the device.
This alone could have dangerous implications for victims of abuse or key security people in high-standard offices. And the situation only gets worse in large cities and in other densely populated areas: while a single cell tower ‘only’ gives an approximate location, devices in places with outstanding cell coverage are in the range of multiple towers, meaning they can be triangulated to report their precise location.
Still, it’s not hard to imagine the ‘real reason’ behind the whole scheme: targeted advertisement, the practice that companies like Google and Facebook depend on. And as it’s widely known to many, opting out of targeted ads is virtually impossible, not to mention the fact that the company would have permanent access to the location of millions of devices – even if its owner disabled Google ads, never turned on location services or used any apps to begin with.
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