Regulators in South Korea summoned Google representatives this week to question them about a report that claimed the company was collecting data from Android devices even when location services were disabled.
Apparently, Android smartphones since the beginning of 2017 have been collecting addresses of nearby cellular towers even when location services are turned off and sending this data back to Google when the device is connected to a Wi-Fi network or has a cellular data enabled.
"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", Google spokesperson said in an email.
Google has come under scrutiny due to reportedly collecting data that shows the locations of users of smartphones without the users' knowledge.
A spokesperson told The Verge that the cellular tower data was supposed to make message delivery faster, but Google made a decision to ditch the plan.
Google never incorporated the data into its system, "so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated [the network system] to no longer request Cell ID", the spokesman added. Android phones no longer request Cell ID codes, and the collection should be ended in November, said Google. The reports mean that recently tower information transmitted by Android smartphones has been sent in real time to Google's servers.
A persistent connection is required for the system to work, but instead of staying constantly connected, the phone pings Google's servers at set intervals. Police have used this information to investigate serious crimes as a person's whereabouts can be narrowed down to within a few streets.
With user location data, cell towers could be used to triangulate location to around a quarter-mile radius, and even closer in urban areas where cell towers are closer together.
Google Inc. has said - while confirming the practice-that it was ending the practice by the end of the month.
Basically, Google's explanation suggests the location tracking was done in order to enhance messaging services.
The basis of the detected spyware / functions is technology Cell ID.