While we may not have known about it, we had already agreed to it.
Turn off your location services! It’s nearly a slogan now among the privacy conscious. Most android users by now know exactly what location services are. These services essentially track your location, and share this information with the apps you use and advertising networks “to better serve you”. This aspect is up for debate. Surely, there are a number of apps which need this information to run properly. We all use apps that we want to be a little more accurate in the information which they provide, and location services is something which helps in that accuracy. But we also all know that there are apps that we don’t need that information being shared, and anyone with a modicum of mobile tech knowledge, knows how to go about turning them off. Unfortunately, it was discovered that Google was collecting location data using something entirely different from location services.
Early in 2017 Android phones had been collecting information about cellular towers being used by the devices, and sending that information back to Google. While this is far from pinpointing an exact location. In the best of circumstances, this information can approximate a location to within a quarter mile radius. Turning location services off, does nothing to stop this data collection. In fact, even phones without SIM cards are delivering this information back to Google once the phone gains a data connection.
In a statement to Quartz, Google confirmed this collection. “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 spokesperson for Google explained in an email, “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.”
The fact of the matter is Google, and other tech companies like Google, are constantly attempting to move their technology forward. This involves testing, trials and errors. This sounds much like a trial that they decided to abandon. The problem for many, is that these trials can often do things that we users are uncomfortable with. Even if it is something which we may have agreed to when we began using the services.
What is the solution? Well, the solution is not to tell companies that they cannot move technology forward. It’s not to act offended when a company does something which we have agreed to let them do. Personally, I’d like to see more transparency with things of this nature. I’d like to see an opt-in method for those that wish to take part. We know that any time there is a beta app or software people will rush to be a part of it. It would be nice if when tests such as these take place, if companies would ask for volunteers for the task. I’m sure they would find many. By divulging these tests, would they be giving up some of their competitive advantage? Perhaps they would. But they would also not be at risk of losing consumer trust, and trust is hard to restore once it is lost.