You are here

How Google Play tracks you even if your other apps don’t

Android users have been complaining that a recent update to Google Play caused havoc with battery life.
The traditional explanations you’ll hear for an upsurge in power usage are “you must have a virus on your phone,” or “you probably turned on GPS without realising it.”

We’ll ignore the “you got a virus” issue for now; it’s not relevant here. (In any case, please don’t rely on power consumption as an indicator of infection, because malware can do plenty of harm while hardly touching your battery.)

GPS is a receive-only technology – your phone isn’t energetic enough to communicate back to the GPS satellites, which orbit at an altitude of about 20,000km – but it’s still notorious for eating through batteries in order to keep up an accurate stream of location data.

Additionally, mobile phones on which you’ve authorised the collection of location data keep up an outbound data stream anyway, communicating back to one or more vendors via Wi-Fi or the mobile network.

That’s how the apps on your mobile phone always seem to know where you are: they generally do know where you are.

The obvious solution is to turn off location services altogether, but with Google Play showing up as the main culprit, why not use the granular, per-app permissions system in Android 6 and 7 to get the power-sapping Google Play off your tail while letting your other apps know where you are?

After all, you may have installed an app like Sophos Mobile Security, which requests access to location data up front in case it needs it to trigger its “find your phone” feature, but doesn’t need to call home all the time and therefore doesn’t flatten your battery.

You might consider it reasonable to leave your chosen security product in touch with your location, just in case you need to know where your phone is, while cutting off the Google apps that go after your location data incessantly because they want to know where you are.