While you may be fine sharing your location via Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, it’s another issue when your phone is sharing your location without your knowledge. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has discovered an alarming issue with newer Android phones.
According to the EFF’s findings, when an Android device with Honeycomb (Android 3.1) or later installed is in Preferred Network Offload (PNO) mode, it broadcast the recent Wi-Fi networks it was connected to. Anyone within Wi-Fi range of the device could snoop those broadcast and know exactly where you were based on the real language names of your previous locations.
If you were at Starbucks or any other company that uses its company name as its Wi-Fi name, now someone knows where you’ve been. If they see the last few locations you’ve visited, they can actually track your travels. Something most people would not be happy sharing.
PNO mode helps to extend battery life by giving Wi-Fi priority over cellular data by searching for recently joined Wi-Fi networks while a device’s display is off. A Wi-Fi connection uses less power than a cellular connection.
Google has been made aware of the issue and sent the EFF the following statement:
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.
To subvert the leaks, the EFF recommends navigating to your phones settings and selecting Advanced Wi-Fi. From there select, Keep Wi-Fi on During Sleep and change it to Never.