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Google shut down a secret Android location data service for US carriers

The service used your Android phone to let carriers know where their service was strongest and weakest.

Published onAugust 19, 2019

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Have you ever been using your Android phone in a particular spot where coverage is spotty? On the flip side, have you ever used your Android phone and thought to yourself, “Wow, coverage here is awesome!” Chances are good, Google knows about both of those times.

In fact, according to a new report from Reuters, Google actually used that information to help U.S. wireless carriers know where their coverage was good — and where it needed some work. This program — known as Mobile Network Insights — was previously unheard of until Reuters obtained information about it.

However, the program itself is no longer operating since Google shut it down in April of this year. Although the company did not say as much, it’s a good bet that Google turned Mobile Network Insights off as a preemptive move against the public finding out about it and being displeased with its existence.

To aggregate all the information about network service, Google compiled anonymous location and service data from Android phones across the United States. It only obtained this info from users who gave permission for the company to do so (by opting-in to sharing location history and usage and diagnostics with Google when you first set up your Android device) and didn’t collect any personal identifying info about any users.

Despite the seemingly-innocuous service, which apparently was only ever intended to show to the wireless carriers, pretty much anything Google does with user data is under scrutiny at the moment. With Google making headlines over data collection this year — especially when it comes to things like the GDPR — it was a wise move for Google to shut down Mobile Network Insights before someone found out about it and made it public.

According to Reuters, the wireless carriers are unhappy with the removal of the service, though, as it helped them plan network upgrades.