Android Absolutely Does Store Location Information


Yes, Android does store location information, at least that’s what all of the headlines have been purporting the past week or so. We’ve watched this story originate and bubble up into a huge FUD-spreading session since early last week, but we didn’t feel the need to report it. Why, you ask? Because this stuff has been known since Android’s inception – the operating system stores location information.

Countless outlets have reported it as if it were a surprise in response to claims that the iPhone is storing location information. To me, it just sounded like everyone was defending Apple and the iPhone by alleging that the same is true for Android. After further analysis, however, I realize that a lot of folks are just plain ignorant.

When you buy a new Android phone and activate it for the first time, Google asks you a simple question: would you like to enable location services? Alongside delivering power for Google Maps navigation, targeted ads and local search results, enabling these services store information about what networks and cell towers you’ve been connected to.

But it’s not for Google or even Apple to track you – they use this information to make it easier and faster for you to use said location services. Instead of wasting time establishing a completely fresh connection with GPS satellites, they’ll use a cache of information to get you the results you need faster.

I understand folks’ concerns about privacy, but is this really that big of a deal? You’d be surprised how much Google already knows about you through your daily web browsing sessions and I’m willing to bet that a majority of you don’t care – some of you may even like it. (I know I do. Ads relevant to me are simply awesome.)

I wasn’t even too high on writing this story until Mr Jobs himself reportedly chimed in. According to MacRumors, he responded to his [email protected] address to a user inquiring about the issue. And I quote:

Q: Steve,
Could you please explain the necessity of the passive location-tracking tool embedded in my iPhone? It’s kind of unnerving knowing that my exact location is being recorded at all times. Maybe you could shed some light on this for me before I switch to a Droid. They don’t track me.

A: Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.

Sent from my iPhone

I don’t even want to get started on how condescending and asshole-ish this sounds. And I won’t comment on the truth or falsity of Jobs’ supposed statement. (This isn’t confirmed to be from him, but Apple has yet to deny it.) I will, however, say that it’s no one’s place to accuse Google of such actions when there has been no evidence to go along with it. That’s even low for Steve Jobs.

I’m sure Google’s going to get another phone call about their privacy policy from the governing bodies of the world after all of this hooplah, but I think it’ll ultimately end up being an epic waste of time.

Google had no problem shedding more light on their policy for the desktop computing front and I don’t foresee them having anything to hide on mobile. Having said all of that, just turn those pesky location services off and get a standalone GPS if you’re that worried about it.

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. Everybody’s asked this at first start-up of any Android phone & Google even clarified about it if anybody was still unaware unlike some other company!

  2. I don’t know whats worse the alleged Jobs quote or some Apple owner using Droid as a generic term for Android phones. I’m not sure an ignorant person asking a liar a question is ever going to turn out well.

    1. Maybe the questioner had narrowed his options down to one of the Droid line of phones.

      1. Nope. They are using Droid to mean any Android phone.

    2. For better or worse, it’s a testament to Verizon’s marketing success I suppose. “Droid” is such a generalized term now, I heard friends on AT&T/Sprint refer to their phones as “Droids” pretty often. :/

    3. It drives me crazy when people do that. Or when people say they have a droid when actually, they have a thunderbolt ect.. But maby thats just me

    4. Here’s the straight scoop on the situation. Stop the FUD!

      Link: http://geothought.blogspot.com/2011/04/scoop-apples-iphone-is-not-storing-your.html

  3. Some versions of Android may maintain the cache file after disabling the location services. 2.2 and 2.3 are confirmed to delete the files when the services are disabled. If you’re rooted and have Terminal Emulator (adb probably works too, but I tested it on Terminal Emulator) you can manually delete the cache files if you wish. The two files are located in /data/data/com.google.android.location/files

    That said, if the email transcript is accurate I’m surprised the person who sent it to Jobs gave him a way to misdirect his question into Android-bashing. I mean, the point of the question is to get the reason for the iOS location log and it wasn’t necessary to bring Android up at all.

    1. You don’t have to be rooted to delete the files. Just go to Settings > Applications > Manage applications and choose “all”. Scroll down the list until you see Network location. Choose that apk and press “Clear data”. All the files are purged in the directory.

  4. I’m pretty sure Android users don’t care about this. And I love how Google is able to predict so accurately what I’m looking for.

    Example: I was looking at houses for sale. I saw one as I was driving. I started to type in the 1st 2 numbers of the homes street address and it suggested exactly what I was looking for. They can stalk me all they want when they offer convenience like that!

  5. people got 2 choices, use the phone or dont use the phone. what can those location data harm me? steve jobs come to my house and f me?

  6. Android phones do collect information…

    UNLES IT’Z 1 OF SPRINT’S 437,986,342 AMZING 4G DEVISES OMG THEY R AMAZING LOL1!!1!1!1!!!!!1!!oneone!!!

    1. Grow up.

      1. Serious cat is serious.

        You call someone an “AssHeap” and tell me to grow up.

  7. I have location tracking disabled. Can that be done on an iPhone? ;)

    1. NO!

    2. Oh it can be disabled, but its more of a personal comfort gesture more than anything. It doesn’t actually stop recording location data, it just stops sending it to Apple. In other words, even with location tracking off, if someone finds your lost iPhone they can extract the location data as well as the police in an investigation.

      1. Incorrect. The iPhone keeps a log file of cell tower and wifi connections, not GPS data of the phone position. It is not accurate enough to pinpoint location, only vicinity. Also, it is not a history file. It only stores information about the last time you were in contact with each cell tower or wifi basestation. It does not keep track of day-to-day movements. The purpose of this file is as a cache of locales to assist GPS services in locking in faster.

        1. On the contrary, the file on ios stores cell data since ios 4 was released. The people who found it tracked a train trip they took shortly after the ios 4 update. Their data included all the cell tower data (long and latitude) plus time stamps. Over 30,000 points

          1. Yes, the file does store cell tower locations for every place you have gone, but it stores each entry only once. As a result, if someone were to get their hands on your iPhone and look at the file, there would be no information as to which locations you frequent most often, i.e. home, office, school. There is no context. It’s just a list of cell tower coordinates. Also, the file does not log the phone’s position, only the cell tower locations.

          2. Your theory works when one does not cross paths with multiple cell towers. However, when you drive an hour across city each day for work, and return home, passing by multiple towers, it records your path you traveled. If the phone is found outside a home, and data pulled off, it can show when you’ll be away

          3. @Jamerson90

            Again, each cell tower has only one entry in the file. A hacker has no way of knowing which locations you frequent more than others. There is, for example, no way to discern weekend behavior from weekday behavior or vacation behavior from workday behavior.

            I agree that the file should be encrypted, and it will most likely be with the next point release. However, this is a tempest in a teapot.

          4. To your comment below because Phandroid’s disqus is stupid.

            The data that was originally discovered in a backup contained time stamps. The developers then made an HTML5 app within 24 hours to “play” the file. The file showed a 3 day trip taken via train to NYC and back. Crossing the same cell tower as it did before, and it still played the point data as a video.

        2. I advise you to do some more research pjs_boston. It has been discovered that while this data is not nearly as accurate as some people would have you believe, it is indeed more detailed than cell tower and wifi data and is stored separately. Some reporters are trying to play it off as cell tower and wifi data, but from the more trustworthy articles I’ve read, this data is more detailed. Like I’ve said elsewhere in the comment section, its not the data collection thats the issue, its the ethics behind it. Apple isn’t being as upfront as they should about the issue.

          1. @WickedToby741

            I have done a little research. Here’s a link:


            This guy is an expert in geo-location. What are your credentials?

          2. I’ll admit that what I’ve seen has come mostly from blogs and tech sites and I could be wrong, but the data still isn’t the issue at hand its how its taken from the user. See my other reply above to one of your comments to get a more detailed explanation of what I’m talking about. Just because this data may not be as critical as what its been hyped up to doesn’t make the way Apple is going about collecting and storing it right.

            Also, need I remind you you’re on a site called Phandroid? Maybe you feel better about yourself coming here to talk bad about Android, but I certainly don’t go to iOS sites and talk bad about their devices.

  8. Jobs dishonest about competing technology? Say it’s not true…!

  9. https://github.com/packetlss/android-locdump#readme
    the files (if you opted-in) can be found at /data/data/com.google.android.location/files on your rooted Android phone.

  10. This is an effing awesome article. I mean seriously is it that big of a deal?

    1. The data tracking? No, anyone who wants to know something about us like where we live or work or whatever probably already knows it. The ethics behind the way Apple is going about it? Absolutely. Here, I’ll lay the main issues out one by one:

      -Apple has location services (or whatever its called on iOS) on by default, the user is never prompted when first firing up the device like on Android.
      -Even when a user turns this option off, iOS still collects location data and stores it. The only difference is it doesn’t get sent to Apple but it remains on the device.
      -The location information collected is stored in an unencrypted and unprotected file that is easily accessible and this exploit is regularly used by police when a device is confiscated and criminals can also gain access to this info if your iOS device was ever lost.
      -Apple keeps this info on the device for I believe 6 months where as Android has it erased much sooner (I forget how long).
      -Provided this email is legitimate, Steve Jobs is spreading seriously misleading and false information to deflect the blame from Apple while avoiding the issues at hand.

      Its the ethics behind all of this that is the issue.

      1. Apple’s ethics are why I don’t give them my money.

        1. Ditto.

      2. In case u thought I thought APPLE was ok to do this, I was not implying that at all lol. Go Android!

        1. No, I was just stating it for the masses really.

  11. Are we actually to believe a random MacRumor reader emailed Steve Jobs and got a response??? Really? How is anyone taking this seriously…

    1. Steve replies to emails like this quite frequently. Theres really no method to his madness. He’ll respond to random emails he gets late at night but Apple won’t say a word to the press or make an official announcement unless absolutely necessary. For instance, he once responded to someone involving the antenna ordeal by telling them “just don’t hold it that way” and responded to a student inquiring about why Apple sales representatives wouldn’t respond to her inquiries for a research project by telling her after a series of rude emails “Please leave us alone.” This could very well be fake, but its very characteristic. Its just how he is.

    2. Yeah I have seen alot of people e-mailing and getting responses from Jobs. I believe that it was a e-mail where the term “you are holding it wrong” came from.

  12. It’s what Steve does. . . life a child caught with his hands in the cookie car he exclaims, I didn’t do it Bobby did.

    Amazing how many fall for his BS and look the other way and then defend him and apple afterwards.

    1. Storing a log of cell tower connections on device is not the same as uploading location history to the cloud, which is what ‘droid DOES.

      1. You either miss the point or choose not to see it. 1) google asks you about this when you set up your phone-THEY TELL YOU. The info can also be deleted from the cache as well. 2) Not only doesn’t Apple tell you, there’s no way to delete it or prevent it from happening. Simply because the info isn’t transmitted to Apple doesn’t give them a greenlight to collect the data without your knowledge.

        1. No, YOU miss the point. Google uploads your information to their servers. Apple does not. the file is simply a list of cell tower locations that is cached so the phone doesn’t have to ask the cloud for the cell tower location each time it connects.

          This is total FUD! Don’t fall for it.

          1. That’d be a nice sentiment if it were true. The info is more detailed than cell tower and wifi data. Its not super accurate, but its more accurate than can be provided by cell towers and wifi hotspots. Its not FUD, you’re just choosing not to believe whats been proven as true.

      2. Its also what Apple does, but you know, without your permission first, unlike Apple who just assumes you wanted that on anyways (they sure do enjoy making decisions for you guys). Apple also makes sure that you don’t accidentally un-protect yourself too by still recording location data (yes, its been proven that its different than wifi and cell tower data) in an unencrypted file EVEN WHEN YOU OPT OUT OF IT.

        This may be hard to understand, but your precious Apple is collecting this data with your permission or not for a longer period of time and in an un-secure location on your iOS device and now their CEO is lying about it (or at least being extremely misleading). Google collects the same exact data, but they prompt you as soon as you first fire up your device so that you have an option to turn it off. The data collection isn’t the problem, its the ethics surrounding the way Apple is going about doing it.

        Also, just because Google is doing it too (which in this case they aren’t) doesn’t justify Apple doing it. If Google is storing this data on my phone unencrypted and unprotected or going about this whole ordeal completely behind my back, I could care less if Apple is doing it too, its not right. Fortunately, they’re not, they’re being very upfront about it (Google not Apple). The reverse should not be true either. I realize you’ve been brainwashed into forgetting about things like choice and the ability to think on your own since Steve does that for you, but for Pete’s sake you don’t have to defend everything Apple does! I sure don’t agree with and defend everything Google does. Is it that impossible to realize no matter how “magical” Steve Jobs wants you to think Apple and their products are, they’re just another giant scheming corporation just like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and countless others.

          1. I appreciate the link and he brings up good points, but also along the way states its simply his own assumptions based on personal findings. I’ve seen people also stating they believe theres more to the location info than just cell tower data and wifi access points. Honestly, the truth probably won’t be known unless Apple comes out and specifically explains how and why they collect this data and what exactly it is. I could very well be wrong, but its impossible to know at this point.

            However, we come back to what I’ve been saying all along: its not the data thats the issue, its the ethics. Your iOS device will record location data no matter if you have that setting turned on or off (it can’t truly, 100% be shut off). I realize that Apple is only using this information to better the experience of their users, but the way they are going about it is unethical. They’re taking it without asking first and no matter if you decide to not let them collect the data, it still gets recorded on your device in an unencrypted file that can be easily accessed. Its been revealed that police departments have been using software tools to extract this very info and use it against someone and theres no reason someone who finds your lost iPhone can’t do the same.

            Like it or not, its not a good policy an Apple needs to fix it, not reply with misleading emails provided this is truly from Steve Jobs. They first need to come right out and explain exactly what this data is and what its used for. Then, they need to change their policy as to where the user is prompted to allow or disallow location services on initial startup. The also need to make it so that for better or worse, when a user opts out of location services, no location data is stored. And lastly, they need to add some sort of encryption on that file so that only Apple has access to it (at least until the encryption is figured out) and not crooks or police departments.

  13. The issue with the iPhone predicament is that they collected this data without permission, stored it in an easily accessible, unencrypted file, and theres no way to stop the actual data collection, just a way to stop an iPhone from sending it. Its not that Apple collecting this info is so bad in itself, its just how they went about doing it.

  14. “I understand folks’ concerns about privacy, but is this really that big of a deal? You’d be surprised how much Google already knows about you through your daily web browsing sessions and I’m willing to bet that a majority of you don’t care – some of you may even like it. (I know I do. Ads relevant to me are simply awesome.)”

    This quote exemplifies naivete of the very worst kind. Just because you gain some nominal benefit from agreeing to disclose your location to Google does not mean that you should be equally willing to grant them carte blanche to retain that information indefinitely for their own purposes.

    1. And Google knowing your location would be so terrifying to you because…?

    2. Didn’t you agree to it?

    3. Then just opt out of it. Why is this such a big deal? Do you think that Google is out to get you?

    4. And it’s only indefinitely if you choose not to clear the cache of all info. A choice Apple doesn’t give you.

  15. Every phone can be traced through the phone company. Not sure if it’s by law that they track it, maybe the patriot act, but the phone company has been known to give records to police departments or other government agencies for a while. If the phone company or city police department is hacked though, that might get into the wrong hands. Your gps device tracks you too, if you commit a crime and you have a phone or gps device with you, you are likely going to be traced that way. If you have nothing to hide, all you have to fear is phone company or gov hackers. You also might want to fear those bad android apps that probably track you and much more.

  16. Wonder if the guy believed Steve Job’s response!

  17. Honestly ya’ll should have jumped out on this right from the get go. You knew it was inevitable that the iPhool fanboys would try to point the finger at Android and turn this around. This article should have been out from day one contrasting the difference in what Android and iOS do.

    I mean seriously if you’re bread and butter is Android coverage then that includes defending the object of you’re bread and butter from the negative media. With a big Android plastered at the top of the site no one is going to knock you or being…gasp…Phandroids. Beat the iPhools to cornering the media and get your name out there before everybody else.

  18. Here’s how it goes.

    1. A couple of forensics experts reveals a not so new privacy concern about location tracking that was already published in a book.
    2. The media goes nuts and Congress writes to Apple, for good reason, to ask what the deal is and to stop it.
    3. Android fansites go hysterical because there’s ammo to diss Apple and they can never pass that up, because they are that type of low-brow cretins.
    3. Said media starts looking at Android, the OTHER super popular platform. Google no doubt tracks information, location based and everything else.
    4. Android fansites like Android Central and Phandroid go back on their word and flipflop, because they are hypocritical and full of donkey poo like that, writing frantic articles to somehow “justify” Google’s tracking of their location, this issue somehow becoming a “non-issue” once it involves their precious OS, grasping at straws and using piss poor reasons like “There was a notification saying using location services! I pushed OK” and “it’s cool because it helps me connect to cell towers and stuff faster!”. Many of the same reasons other site have given in Apple’s defense, and defense of smartphones IN GENERAL, as well as a handful of Android specific BS reasons like cryptic prompts.

    Grow up fanboys.

    1. Cryptic prompts?

      Is this cryptic to you? http://mobilized.allthingsd.com/files/2011/04/google-location-240×400.png

      What about this? http://www.androidcentral.com/sites/androidcentral.com/files/articleimage/684/2011/04/location-cache-3.png

      You can’t be serious. I am sure that every Android user had to have known about this location deal because you can’t set up your phone without seeing that dialog box (hell I see it after the first dialog box after every new ROM I load).

      I do feel that the media and everybody is making this a bigger deal than it actually is. Apple isn’t out to get us. Google isn’t out to get us. RIM/WP7/Palm/everyone else isn’t out to get us. Location services are for the cache/maybe advertisements/maybe statistics for themselves. It isn’t a big deal at all. The media just found another bogeyman (honestly, I am shocked that it took them this long to find out about it).

    2. So then you come on here and bash Android fans and Android websites? Seems like the same kind of “low-brow cretin” behavior that you’re railing against up there, and also a perfect example of the elitism that seems to plague Apple users.

      First Microsoft, now Google. Seems like Apple users just need an enemy, no matter who it is.

    3. With morons like you defending Apple, it’s no surprise they haven’t said anything yet. You get to do their dirty and spread disinformation for them.

  19. I see two issues here. One is the data collection. The other is the rabbit in the headlights act of Apples now something is happening they haven’t expected. If they could come out with a clear explanation of this – exactly what is happening and why, then a lot if this goes away. This kind of openness is against the grain for them though. Yes, something similar happens on Android, but it is no secret to be discovered, it is right out there in the open along with all the mechanics. It can’t be hidden in the code anyway.
    These two issues need to be kept separate, and also the straw man arguments about Android need to be ignored and discounted. Apple would love to turn the spotlight on somebody (anybody!) else. Classic PR. Caught in a shitstorm, try and spread it about to distract people.
    So two points, what exactly is happening with data collection on iPhone, and what will Apple do about it?

  20. All I can tell you is that my android device has no GPS chip:)

  21. App in app market for rooted users will block this. Location cache map will disable this. I’m using EVO 4g running fresh EVO

  22. I can’t understand there isn’t a backup (and phone->phone data transfer) issue mentioned either in articles or in the comments!

    It is such a wonderful feature, any iPhone connected to a PC (yes, Mac is a PC) via iTunes will give us an option to play with the “traveling-history” later on, even though the device is already disconnected.

    Now – not only Apple Genius-es will care about our traveling habbits! We can track our girfriend/wifes as well – and this alone makes me forget any Android device and buy an iPhone for anyone I know!

    I love doing backups and playing with iTunes! Someone needs some help?

    good job apple

  23. Lol. I like how people try to shift focus from Apple to Google regarding this tracking stuff. I read somewhere that Apple DID tell users about the location info collection BUT it’s hidden in their privacy policy. I know people don’t really read those yet this is what happens when you don’t. In this case, Google wins for giving users the option to turn it off, even if people were too hasty to bother reading the setup info (which is significantly shorter than an entire privacy policy).

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