Google has been secretly tracking people against their wishes.
The company has been collecting Android users’ location data, even when they’ve actively disabled location services.
It’s an extremely concerning discovery, which means that Google can pinpoint exactly where you are even when you go out of your way to hide this information.
Google can track you even if you turn off location services, stop using apps and remove your SIM card from your device, reports Quartz.
Since the start of the year, Android devices with a cellular or Wi-Fi connection have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers and sending the data back to Google.
It appears that this has been the case with both Android smartphones and tablets.
The company says it started collecting this data to “improve the speed and performance of message delivery”, but that it was never actually used or stored.
However, Google also decided against allowing Android users to opt out of the system.
“In January of this year, we began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery,” a Google spokesperson told Quartz.
“However, we never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID.”
By the end of November, Android handsets will stop sending cellular tower location data to Google for this purpose, the company says.
However, the spokesperson also told Quartz that Android's notification and messages system is “distinctly separate from Location Services, which provide a device’s location to apps”.
That leaves the door open for Google to keep tracking users in the future, perhaps as part of a different system, even when they have Location Services switched off.