In this age of endless innovations in networking, the number one question that people from the general public have is whether the data in their smartphones is safe? Although, the authenticity of previous claims was dubious, latest news regarding one of the leading protagonists in the smartphone market has shed light on how threatened our data really is.
Google, which runs the Android operating system, has spilled the beans pertaining to data theft from Android phones. Interestingly, the data captured from Android users was done through the use of location services. Even if the location icon is turned off and your phone doesn’t have a Sim Card in it, Google can still get what it wants.
Location services often refer to the exact data used for apps that require GPS. Finding a route to commute through Google map or Uber figuring just out where you are standing, are perfect examples of how GPS data is used by applications to create a better life for us. However, a report from a reliable source has now mentioned practices where Google was able to track user locations by finding out which towers were servicing in a specific area.
Ever since the start of this year, all phones and tablets working under Android have been collecting addresses of cellular towers located nearby and then sending the encrypted information to messaging management system and push notification for Google as soon as the device is connected to the internet. This is just a practice that customers cannot opt out of, even while wanting to do so. Even if their Android phones are factory reset, customers will be sending these data signals.
A Google spokesperson while talking to media personnel specified that all Android phones come with a network sync, which requires mobile network codes and mobile country codes. So, info from towers called “Cell ID” codes were deemed by their staff to be a signal to further enhance the performance and speed of message delivery. Google eventually decided to discard the data and didn’t carry on with the plan.
Another source that is familiar with the matter mentioned that Google added data from cell towers to improve Firebase Cloud Messaging. In FCM, devices have to keep notifying the server at regular intervals to ensure the prompt flow of messages.
These findings are extremely surprising, considering that data from cell towers is usually kept by carrier networks and is rarely shared with external stakeholders or organizations. This also presents security implications for individuals who would not like being tracked. It can also create bigger targets for hackers on the lookout for personal info.