I've noticed that Google Maps, for instance, can guess where you are using phone towers or something even when GPS is turned off.

Does this apply to 3rd party apps? Can any app figure out where you are?

If so, are there large security implications there?

Basically as a developer, couldn't you build a background process that tracks every the location of every phone that has your app installed?

4 Answers 4


Apps can get your approximate location without GPS, but only if they have the "coarse location" permission. The "fine location" permission lets an app get your GPS location too, if GPS is enabled.

When you an install an app, Android shows you the permissions it needs. If you don't see coarse or fine location in the list, the app can't get your location.


Yes, but the application has to request the LOCATION_COARSE permission.

This uses a couple different sources used to find the approximate location.

  • Wifi access points: Google tracks the location of access points by gathering information about them when people have GPS on. Then they can use these access points to tell you where you are when you don't have GPS. You would have to have Wifi on in order for the device to use this method.

  • Cell Towers (tries to get at least 3, so it can triangulate the location, just like in the movies. Ok, this part isn't entirely true. They could use 2 towers (or even 1) to get your approximate location, but it wouldn't be nearly as accurate as 3.)

There may be other sources that are used, but I do not know of them, at least I can't think of any right now.

  • so really, there's no point turning GPS off for security? Apps like Facebook will be able to find your location regardless?
    – Diskdrive
    Feb 27, 2013 at 2:05
  • Turning off GPS prevents apps that have LOCATION_FINE from getting your precise location. They're limited to your approximate location without GPS.
    – Wyzard
    Feb 27, 2013 at 2:14
  • 1
    Does Android use IP geolocation at any level of permissions? This is of course, coarse, but if you have GPS and wi-fi off, it would still enable an app (or web site) to know your approximate location in many cases.
    – pseudon
    Feb 27, 2013 at 16:23
  • 3
    Any app that has Internet permission can potentially do IP geolocation.
    – Wyzard
    Feb 28, 2013 at 0:18

An app with permission to use the internet could also approximate your location using your IP address even without any location permissions.

  • ip address will only tell the area or country, not the exact location. of course, IP can be used to trace the exact location by the Internet service provider because they know which IP is allotted which user at any given time
    – Shafeek
    Jul 28, 2016 at 14:02

You can restrict this information by adjusting you location settings i.e. under location services switch off the option to use wireless networks.

This should stop most if not all from reporting your current position.

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