A report recently released by Quartz shows that Google has been accessing data from Android phones regarding the users’ location, despite the user believing that data is private. Due to Android phones collecting cell tower addresses, Google has been able to obtain location data even when users have turned off the location function of their smartphones. The collection and use of this information could be considered an invasion of privacy, but Google willingly admitted to partaking in the practice as a part of its Cell ID program.
What is Cell ID?
In a conversation with Quartz, a Google spokesperson said, “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.” Obviously, this doesn’t explain why they were using data that was not legally obtained, but when asked about that, the spokesperson stated, “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.”
Frankly, Google is just trying to maximize its ability to advertise. Of the roughly $27.7 billion that Google’s parent company Alphabet generated last quarter, about $24 billion came from advertising, which banks on location data to help distribute ads appropriately. So, while Google want to brush it off, saying that it was for research, others want more answers, because clearly it was just a matter of making more money.
Information Request from Fox News
As a result, Fox News has put in a request to Google for more clarification on the numbers. They want to know how obtaining the information would upgrade speed and performance of message delivery, when exactly they plan on ending the practice, and how the information was discarded. Fox is right, even if the information was discarded, who saw it and where did it go? The problem with this practice is there are individuals that simply cannot risk their location being disclosed, such as members of military and government entities. On average, the max range of a cell tower is right around 22 miles; however, if multiple towers are used, a user’s location can be pinpointed within a quarter mile if in an urban area, which means if the wrong person were to get their hands on this information, people’s lives could be in danger. Needless to say, Google could be in a lot more trouble than they think.