Is your Android device streaming your location?


Android seems to be the center of attention when it comes to mobile security concerns. In the latest, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has made claims that if you are an Android smartphones user, there is a high risk that your location history is being broadcasted to those within your Wi-Fi range.

Commenting on the issue, EEF wrote in their blog post, “Wi-Fi devices that are not actively connected to a network can send out messages that contain the names of networks they’ve joined in the past in an effort to speed up the connection process.”

Wondering how this thing works? Reportedly, Android (Honeycomb and later) includes a feature dubbed Preferred Network Offload (PNO). The feature basically allows devices to connect and sustain Wi-Fi connections in low-power mode to save battery. And that’s not where it ends. It broadcasts the last 15 networks that your device tracked. This happens even when the screen is off.

The blog further added, “This data is arguably more dangerous than that leaked in previous location data scandals because it clearly denotes in human language places that you’ve spent enough time to use the Wi-Fi. Normally eavesdroppers would need to spend some effort extracting this sort of information from the latititude/longitude history typically discussed in location privacy analysis. But even when networks seem less identifiable, there are ways to look them up.”

Google has assured EFF that investigations are underway to check about the flaw. It has said that it will be including possible changed in the upcoming software update. “We take the security of our users’ location data very seriously and we’re always happy to be made aware of potential issues ahead of time. Since changes to this behavior would potentially affect user connectivity to hidden access points, we are still investigating what changes are appropriate for a future release.”

It is noteworthy to add that only last month, Apple introduced a new feature in its iOS 8 release which randomises your MAC address while scanning for Wi-Fi networks. This basically blocks marketers from tracking you.


Kalpana Sharma
She has worked with some of the esteemed publications in India like Times Life- the Sunday supplement of India’s leading daily, Times of India, The Man and Smart Life magazines
  • paul4id

    Yes, my location is being leaked continuously, not through such a superficial WiFi leak, by directly to the evil GOOOOOGLE HQ. You cannot even use the location features in Google Maps on Android without giving Google random access to your location, even when you aren’t using your phone.

    • arnieswap

      Why do you want to use ‘location’ service if you don’t want to give your location? It’s more like wanting to send an email without putting anything in ‘to’ field. If you want Google to tell you how to reach somewhere from your current location you have to give the location right?

      • paul4id

        Read the creepy terms and conditions you get when you first try and use your location in Google Maps more carefully. It states that you are granting Google permission to access your location at ANY time (even when you are not using Google Maps). I suspect they are using this to generate location-based advertising in ad-driven apps, or even on the Web (they can put 2 and 2 together by correlating with your IP address), and no doubt numerous other creepy NSA-friendly reasons.

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