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Android Phones Revealed To Track Users Too

David Gilbert

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Android Phones Revealed To Track Users Too

Android phones have long been accused of copying Apple's smartphone template, and new revelations by a Swedish programmer show it even extends to secretly tracking its users.

Yesterday we reported on how iPhone users’ movements were being tracked secretly, and now it appears as if Android phone owners are also at risk. Magnus Eriksson, a Swedish programmer, has discovered that a similar file is kept within the Android OS, though it records less information and in a very different way. The file records users’ movements by keeping a record of the last 50 mobile masts the phone has communicated with as well as the last 200 Wi-Fi networks it has recognised. These lists are overwritten when each list is full with the oldest disappearing first, as you would expect. Eriksson has not been able to discover whether or not the file is sent to Google.

The iOS file is easily accessible through the phone or on a computer which syncs with the phone however, getting access to the file on Android phones requires some technical expertise to extract. Google has failed to respond to requests for a comment so far, just as Apple has remained silent on the matter. In the states a Democratic senator, Al Franken, has written to Steve Jobs looking for an explanation while here in Europe, Germany’s data commissioner has announced he will launch an official investigation into the matter. With Android now officially the largest smartphone OS, this latest revelation will affect a huge amount of people but whether or not the files stored in iOS and Android are actually malicious or not remains unclear.

The issue will only be cleared up when Apple and Google decide to address the situation and say exactly why they feel the need to keep a record of phone owners’ movements.

Source: Guardian

Jesper

April 22, 2011, 6:55 pm

I don't really get it.

We want out phone to provide location aware services, but we don't want it to track our movement?

Yesterday was a sunny day and I wanted to find an ice cream shop nearby. I grabbed my Nokia 5800 and typed "Ice" in Google Maps and "Search nearby". My phone immediately responded with a map of Iceland... Unfortunately I was nowhere near Iceland, so this search result wasn't very useful.

Obviously I want my smartphone to make my life easier. I don't see how it can do that without collecting a bit of personal information. The only thing I am worried about is whether our laws a strong enough for this information to be safe With Google/Apple/Facebook or whoever is collecting.

Its a Conspiracy

April 22, 2011, 11:55 pm

I Knew it. The question now is who else and what else? ANY sort of Smart Phone? ANY sort of Tablet? Laptops when hot-spotting? I knew it. Big Brother has been here for a while now. Wait until the security services decide they want to know who, what and where. I bet the companies don't say no when the demand is made. You have been warned.

Gk.pm

April 23, 2011, 3:52 pm

There's not even need for a smart phone, mobile companies have had this information for ages for any phone.

O2 even sells it as a location-based marketing product. The ads themselves are opt-in, but the information is there regardless.

http://mediacentre.o2.co.uk/Press-Releases/O2-launches-UK-s-first-location-based-mobile-marketing-2ca.aspx

ps - 5 comments on the iPhone "omg they track you everywhere you go" (which turns out was a lie) announcement, and 2 on this one? These would have easily been +100 threads in the old layout. Have you really got your fingers out of your ears yet TrustedReviews or will you just wait until you travel further down the path of obscurity...

CodeMonkey

April 23, 2011, 7:27 pm

I'm with Jesper on this - surely anyone with some common sense would expect some form of location monitoring to occur to offer location based services..
It's no surprise that Android tracks my location - I want it to, and rely on it for a number of apps & profiles that I run.
As far as the 'Conspiracy' goes, I would expect any mobile network provider to be able to return a (rough) history for any phone (smart or otherwise) based on cell tower logs.

Simon

April 23, 2011, 10:25 pm

Knowing where i am now is one thing. Keeping a recording of that is another thing.

rav

April 23, 2011, 11:39 pm

During setup on Android there's a screen which specifically asks if you want to enable location tracking. Is this not related to this?

@Gk.pm
I agree about the comments. The new layout is awful and stories just don't have the visibility they used to on the old sight.

Enigma

April 24, 2011, 5:30 am

The corporate lot ONLY know crooked ways to make money.

@http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/9442175.stm

"Matthew Bath from Which? Magazine says the cost of actually transferring the information is very low, but hidden from consumers.

""There's a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to these costs.

"Some companies are in a stronger position than others. So there are actually worldwide around 2,000 different types of mobile phone tariffs when it comes to roaming.""

HappyDude

April 25, 2011, 2:08 pm

This is hardly a revelation or a secret. Android phones prompt you when you log into them for the first time whether you want to allow them to collect location data and you can opt out. This is entirely different from Apple's approach of burying the permission in one of those very wordy agreements that nobody reads (as you said in your podcast) and you can't say no to if you want to use the device.

Disappointed that this article was clearly written to tar Android with the same brush but failed to show the most basic understanding of its logon process. Also failed to point out that Android only stores a limited number of the most recent locations unlike IOS that stores a complete history.

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