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Google promises to end concerning smartphone tracking

Google has been caught tracking smartphone owner’s whereabouts even when they have switched off their location services.

Smartphone / Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The tech giant has been gathering and sending addresses of devices running the Android operating system without users knowing, even if they do not have a SIM card inserted or any apps installed, an investigation by Quartz has found.

It is well known that phones can pinpoint their surroundings while the location services are turned on, in order to use when they are using Google Maps or apps that need geographical information to function.

But Google has been collecting the addresses of telephone masts that are pinged by phones since the beginning of this year, it has emerged.

The release of this information could put victims of domestic abuse and potential criminal targets like celebrities at risk if someone was able to hack into their phones. The practice raises privacy concerns for the two billion people using the operating system – the largest in the world.

Google have some explaining to do, Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group told The Telegraph. They should immediately explain how and why they were doing this, assure us that the data is now deleted, won’t be collected in future and state how many people’s data and in which countries was collected.
He added that if their answers were unsatisfactory that the Information Commissioner’s Office should be ready to investigate.

It has promised end the practice after it came to light on this afternoon. A spokesman told Quartz it would quit collecting phone mast location data by the end of the month.

They added that the information had been stored to improve the speed and performance of message delivery but did not explain how.

It has pretty concerning implications, said Bill Budington, a software engineer who works for the privacy campaign group Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Quartz.  You can kind of envision any number of circumstances where that could be extremely sensitive information that puts a person at risk.

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