There’s a considerable expectation from smartphone users that they can be tracked by location data that their devices collect. But when you turn off location services, you expect location data to stop working altogether as well. Unfortunately, this has not been totally true of Google, who has been collecting track-able location data on users since the beginning of 2017.
Google has been collecting locations of cellular towers near to your device, even when your location services are turned off. This results in Google being able to locate you if it wanted to ─ and this situation is far from what you would expect as privacy. Quartz has contacted Google about this said practice, and the company has reportedly confirmed it.
For data of nearby cellular towers, the location data of your device is not so exact. But if you triangulate using three cellular towers, your device can be located down to a quarter-mile radius, or even more exact in urban areas where cellular towers are bunched closer together.
According to Google, they will be stopping this practice soon ─ by the end of November, even. “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,” the Google spokesperson said 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.”