In most cases, turning off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or location services means those things are disabled. But if you have a recent Android device, it turns out location services might not work that way.
According to a new report from Quartz, Google collects device location from Android devices even when location services have been switched off. That information has been sent back to Google on a regular basis and, according to the report, has been the case in modern Android devices since the early part of this year.
As for what’s being collected, the data is not as accurate as it could be. Specifically, Google is collecting addresses from nearby cellular towers. As the Android device moves from one tower to the next, it pings the address and sends that information back to Google. As mentioned above, this can’t get a precise location, but, the information gathered by Google does mean the location could be triangulated from different towers to ascertain a device owner’s location within a quarter mile.
Removing a SIM card doesn’t change anything, either, so long as the Android device is connected to Wi-Fi.
The report indicates that Google changed the code in the Firebase Cloud Messaging service, which Google owns and utilizes to send notifications to devices. Google confirmed back in January of this year, saying, it “began looking into using Cell ID codes as an additional signal to further improve the speed and performance of message delivery.” For its part, the company says it will stop collecting this specific data before the end of November of this year.