Google lets police use smartphone location data
Google tracks you everywhere, even when you keep Google's Location History feature disabled.Google apps like Maps or daily weather update service on Android allows the tech giant to continuously collect your precise latitude and longitude.
But what many people weren't aware of is that Google also helps federal authorities identify suspects of crimes by sharing location history of all devices that passed through crime scenes over a certain time period.
It should be noted Google doesn't share personal information of all nearby users; instead, it asks the police to first analyze location history of all users and narrows down results to only a few selected users to receive their names, email addresses, and other personal data from Google.
To seek location data, law enforcement needs to get a so-called "geofence" warrant and follow the procedure outlined below:
1. The authorities reached out to Google with a geofence warrant looking for smartphones Google had recorded around the crime scene.
2. After receiving the warrant, Google gathers location information from its Sensorvault database and sends it to investigators, with each device identified by an anonymous ID code and not the actual identity of the devices.
3. Investigators then review the data, look for patterns of the devices near the crime scene, and request further location data on devices from Google that appear relevant to see the particular device movement beyond the original area defined in the warrant.
4. When investigators narrow results to a few devices, which they think may belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the real name, email address and other data associated with the devices.
It's no surprise that law enforcement seeks help from tech companies during criminal investigations, but the use of location history databases like Sensorvault has raised concerns... concerns about the privacy of users... concerns about data collection... concerns about innocent being accused and implicated.