Google Admits Tracking Android Users Even with 'Location' Off

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The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) "is carrying out an inquiry into the claims that Google collected users' Cell ID data without consent even when their smartphone's location service was inactive", Chun Ji-hyun, head of KCC's privacy infringement division, told CNNMoney on Friday.

Regulators in the United Kingdom and South Korea consider launching investigations into Google's (GOOG, GOOGL) practice of collecting location data on smartphone users without permission.

United Kingdom data protection officials are also looking into the matter.

A Quartz report earlier this week revealed that Android phones collect nearby cell tower addresses and send that information to Google even when the user has location tracking turned off.

Google said that the data was never stored and that Cell ID requests would stop by the end of November, after an update to the messaging system. Although Google says the cell tower data is encrypted, it doesn't mean it can't be compromised by a hacker. "Going ahead, we plan to carefully examine whether location information for Android smartphone users was collected and used without their consent, as well as to cooperation with worldwide efforts as we determine the investigative responses to this issue in the United States, the European Union, Japan, and elsewhere", the commission said.

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If Cell IDs were collected by Google without user consent, the company might have violated the Location Data Protection Act of South Korea, whether that data was stored on US servers of Google or not, says an official with the privacy infringement division of the KCC.

"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", a Google spokesman said in a statement to CNNMoney.

No official investigation was launched as of yet, and additional information will be needed that will come from the US headquarters of Google, said the KCC official.

Android phones dominate the global market. Smartphones in South Korea that us the Android operating system of Google including LG and Samsung devices represent over 80% of the overall market, shows data from IDC the research firm. Google acknowledged updating its Android smartphone program to send the location information.