Danger of Using Android Device Manager and Google Location History Service
Today for an experiment, I want to play with Android Device Manager and Google History Location services. I didn’t realize the danger of using android device manager and Google location history service when tracking a target phone!
First, I turned on “Location Services”, (GPS off, Mobile Networks Location On), but I did NOT turn on the permission for Google to use the location.
Immediately Device Manager sees that I am now online, but know that it can’t access my location because the permission is off. Google Location History still shows “You have no location history for June 23, 2015”. [HINT: if ADM shows the phone online and no location, you can be sure location services are off!] But don’t ask me about the “last online” date because NO ONE can explain what controls this date … and I have tried to find out!
Next, I went to Google Settings and gave google permission to use the location services. Google displayed a warning “This setting only controls location access for Google apps. To control location for all apps, go to Settings > Location access.” Google Location History was already set to on.
Went back to the ADM (“android device manager”), and clicked the “GPS” button on the screen. Immediately, ADM located my device and displayed the correct location on the screen. Since I have GPS off and am using Mobile Networks only, the location was accurate to “26 meters”. [I am inside working on this post so GPS isn’t going to work even if I had it turned on!]
BUT! Here is the problem!! Warning! Warning! ADM notifies the phone it was just tracked and located! Not something you want to notify your target of !
The first warning was an unusual icon in my status bar. When I pulled the status bar down, this is the message that was waiting for me:
Not too stealthy! If you don’t want your target to know that you are monitoring their activities, DO NOT USE Google’s Android Device Manager. In fact, even if you are using this to find your lost or stolen phone, you just informed the thief that you are tracking him as well!
When you click on the “device located” as shown above, you are taken to a page explaining what it means and how to deactivate it!
I don’t know how long it takes to update “location history” online. 15 minutes after activating it for the above test, no location activity was visible on my control panel. Oops. My mistake. Location history was “off” on my phone. I misinterpreted the way the on/off was presented! Ok — now for sure! 100%, my location history is turned on.
Within two minutes, I notice on my phone that a message “Location last reported:” showed today’s date. I went to the Location History page on google and see that my location is being reported. And like before, I have GPS off, so my location appears with a blue circle around it indicating the percentage of error. I have two locates showing with different size circles.
According to “HowtoGeek”, “Each point on the map represents where Google used Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) to locate this device. Each time the phone was within range of a Wi-Fi access point, it would send its MAC address and SSID to Google’s servers. Using GPS (when available) and cell ID data, it can locate where that Wi-Fi access point is, which is then collected and stored to create the history you see on the map.”
THE BLUE CIRCLES: “…but you can also click each recorded location to see how (in)accurate it was. When you click the blue dot for a location, Google draws a blue circle around it that shows approximately the (in)accuracy of that location fix.”
If you read that carefully, you will realize what is REALLY happening with Location History and how it gets its information to display. It is looking at its WIFI database that it has stored for years! And from the Google cars that roam the roads (http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-google-collects-wifi-data.html).
How does this location database work?
Google location based services using WiFi access point data work as follows:
- The user’s device sends a request to the Google location server with a list of MAC addresses which are currently visible to the device;
- The location server compares the MAC addresses seen by the user’s device with its list of known MAC addresses, and identifies associated geocoded locations (i.e. latitude / longitude);
- The location server then uses the geocoded locations associated with visible MAC address to triangulate the approximate location of the user;
- and this approximate location is geocoded and sent back to the user’s device.
This data has been collected in two main ways: as their Google Street View car drives around it always has a precise GPS fix, at the same time it listens out for Wifi APs that broadcast their identity and records where it was when it picked them up, and does the same for phone network cell towers; in addition they “crowd-source” the data from Google Maps users on mobile devices, as the Google Maps users travel around with GPS enabled Google Maps will check which cell-towers they’re connected to and which wifi points they can “see” and periodically upload this information.
This was a post from Android Central and the poster was mad that Location History showed her in places where she never went.
“It shows me in places such as woods nearby my apartment in the middle of the night, in an entirely different neighborhood in the middle of the night, PLACES WHERE I NEVER WAS. … but GOOGLE LOCATION HISTORY keeps saying I have been to places like that: hotels, restaurants and other places I have never set foot in.”
Previously on my site, I reported that my kid’s phones were reporting that, in a 15 minute period, they had traveled one hour AND returned home — a physical impossibility. I have never received any explanations and have only found one on the internet that sounded reasonable.
Since Google is using WIFI’s to chart the location, imagine if someone MOVED to a new location and brought their old WIFI to the new house. Unless and until Google can obtain a NEW (or updated) location from a user of the WIFI (ie: a GPS notification), Google sees that location as the OLD/PREVIOUS location.
Perhaps there are some checks and balances that Google has such as triggering an error when you travel to another state and back in an hour! But if the WIFI we are talking about only moved a short distance, Google would never have a way to know that it has moved until one of the WIFI users also has GPS activated and Google can get a new (updated) reading of its location.
HOW OFTEN DOES GOOGLE UPDATE LOCATION HISTORY:
“From Google: “The Location Reporting update frequency isn’t a fixed amount of time. The update frequency is determined by several factors, such as how much battery life your device has, if you are moving, or how fast you are moving.”
I’m in the office and haven’t moved. My location history has updated at 9:44am, 10:16am, and 10:45am. When I first checked, I had a locate point at 9:45am, but that one is now gone. Plus, in the time that I am writing this article, my 9:45am locate is gone; now I have a 9:50am point shown!!! Why do locate points (or “timestamps” as Google calls them) disappear??
This is what I don’t understand!!! Look at my capture as of this moment (12:52pm). Before I left for lunch, I had a 9:45, and it disappeared. Then I had a 9:50am timestamp, and now it is gone! I don’t understand how
Because I do not have GPS on, I am being shown 200 feet from my actual location. I turned GPS on and went outside; so far I didn’t get an updated or more accurate location.
TIP: Location history is a catch-all for ALL devices on your account. It is a Global Setting and NOT device specific. If you have multiple devices, they will be shown together. There is nothing as simple as a drop down to choose the device you want to track.
TIP: If you are monitoring a phone in a different timezone, the times reported will be shown in YOUR (the location of the person monitoring) the history. For example, since I am traveling now, my kids are located 12 hours ahead of me. So when I go to bed at night, they are waking up in the morning. Their location timestamps should be shown as the next day — but they show on the current day of where I am located. This makes using Google Location History much more difficult.