Even after the device was reset to a factory default setting and location services were disabled, Quartz still noted that the location was being transmitted to Google. The search giant has been collecting location data from Android smartphone owners, whether or not they have location services enabled.
While never storing the location information, Google used the data to manage push notifications and improve 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'. But apparently, Google is not budging on this issue, even though they are giving other apps like LastPass, a, well, pass.
So even if message speed and performance could be enhanced by the Android OS knowing a user's cell tower location, Google should at least be asking people to opt in to that location-tracking enhancement and/or providing them with a way to opt out. But the privacy implications of the covert location-sharing practice are plain. And while cell tower location data isn't necessarily hugely precise, triangulation of multiple cell towers can be used to calculate a more exact location.
There are plenty of reasons to turn off location services on your phone. Such personal data, ranging from users' political views to their purchase histories to their locations, are foundational to the business successes of companies like Facebook and Alphabet, built on targeted advertising and personalization and together valued at over $1.2 trillion by investors.
According to Quartz's findings, the location tracking did not appear limited to particular Android phones or tablets.
An investigation by Quartz has shown that Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cell towers and sending them back to Google since January, with no way to stop it short of permanently enabling Flight Mode. Though Android users can't disable it, it looks like they won't have to worry about it for much longer. "You can kind of envision any number of circumstances where that could be extremely sensitive information that puts a person at risk". A Google spokesperson explained in an email that using Cell ID codes could help further improve the speed and performance of message delivery on Android phones. 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.