We already know that Google collects information about its users to better its services, but according to a report from Quartz, the search giant also collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled on their phones. And this happens over Wi-Fi even when the phones don’t have any SIM card inserted.
Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.
Quartz contacted Google, and the latter basically acknowledges the practice. According to a Google spokesperson, these cell tower addresses are used by a system (Firebase Cloud Messaging) that manages push notifications and messages on Android phones for the past 11 months, but they were never stored. Google is now ending this practice, and by end November, Android phones will no longer send cell tower location data to Google.
For what it’s worth, Google’s terms of service currently states that when you use its services, it may collect and process info about your actual location using various technologies, including IP address, GPS, other sensors, Wi-Fi access points, and cell towers. But it doesn’t mention what happens when your turn off location services on your phone, which Google says, control location access to apps.