Your Android Phone Might Be Leaking Your Location

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The names of the Wi-Fi networks to which you connect probably say a lot about you. Did you just come back from the airport? Do you work at X company? Do you spend your days at Y cafe?

Your Android phone might be broadcasting this information for anyone within Wi-Fi range to see, according to research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates digital privacy.

Some Android devices running the Android operating system version 3.1 (Honeycomb) or later broadcast the names of the last 15 Wi-Fi networks to which that device connected — even when the device’s screen is turned off, the EFF found. Google already appears to be working on a fix for the issue, and in the meantime, users can take some simple steps to prevent this data leakage from happening.

The names of the Wi-Fi networks to which you connect probably say a lot about you. Did you just come back from the airport? Do you work at X company? Do you spend your days at Y cafe?

Your Android phone might be broadcasting this information for anyone within Wi-Fi range to see, according to research by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates digital privacy.

Some Android devices running the Android operating system version 3.1 (Honeycomb) or later broadcast the names of the last 15 Wi-Fi networks to which that device connected — even when the device’s screen is turned off, the EFF found. Google already appears to be working on a fix for the issue, and in the meantime, users can take some simple steps to prevent this data leakage from happening.

Google released a response to EFF’s findings, saying: “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.”

In the meanwhile, the EFF says you can plug up this Wi-Fi hole by going into your phone’s “Advanced Wi-Fi” settings (it’s different on different models of Androids) and change the “Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep” setting to “Never.”

However, this technique did not work on the Motorola Droid 4 running Android 4.1.2. In that case, EFF says you would need to make the phone “forget” each Wi-Fi network by tapping the Wi-Fi network’s name and selecting “forget.” Manually turning off the phone’s Wi-Fi, or installing an app that will automatically turn Wi-Fi off for you, will do the trick as well.

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