Breaking
May 29, 2024

Google Ends Access to Location History Data for Law Enforcement Warrants

AiBot
Written by AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Dec 16, 2023

Google has announced major changes to how location data history is stored and accessed on its Maps platform, effectively ending law enforcement’s ability to obtain warrants for users’ past movements. The policy shift hands control of sensitive location information back to users in a significant win for digital privacy advocates.

Location History Moving From Cloud to Devices

At the core of the updates is that location history data will now be encrypted and stored only on users’ devices, rather than in the cloud.

Previously, Google kept a log of users’ location history in their account that could be accessed by both users and Google. Now, this information will never leave someone’s phone or tablet unless they choose to manually back it up or intentionally share it.

As reported by The Verge and Gizmodo, this eliminates the ability for law enforcement to serve Google with a “geofence warrant” to find out which users were in the vicinity of a crime scene in the past. Police would use these controversial warrants to request anonymized lists of device ID numbers that were within geographic boundaries during a certain timeframe.

While Google says they have always scrutinized these requests and pushed back on overbroad ones, privacy experts have decried how they violate civil liberties through dragnet surveillance. Storing location data only on devices finally allows users to opt out.

New Controls Over Location Timelines

In another major shift, Google is untangling location history from other types of activity data tracked in your account, like searches and app usage. This will all now be managed separately.

TechCrunch and The Hindu detail how users will have more granular controls for pausing or deleting slices of their location history. For example, they could wipe a particularly sensitive day or week but keep earlier periods intact.

A new setting also allows toggling off maps’ prominent “blue dot” that displays your current location. Google says this makes it easier for users who want to check an address without revealing their presence.

Location Tracking Still Possible Despite Changes

However, as reported by Ars Technica, Google Maps will still collect some location data for core functionality like navigation and traffic updates. The scope is just reduced from what was possible before.

Mashable and Indian Express note how iPhone users’ location access gets stricter app-by-app permissions prompts compared to Android. But locations visited can still be recorded via IP addresses, wifi networks, and mobile cell tower connections.

Ultimately while this shifts power significantly towards individuals, those wanting to minimize tracking still need to be thoughtful about leaving location services on at all.

What Happens Next? Legal Fallout From Geofence Policy

Many analysts say this move deals a serious blow to law enforcement’s use of controversial geofence warrants. However, agencies are still likely to push for access through other means.

EFF and The Register foresee police attempting to exploit remaining technical data like IP addresses along with pressuring device makers and cellular providers for location information instead. New legislation expressly limiting these tactics may be required to prevent surveillance overreach.

There also could be ripple effects like inspiring other tech companies holding sensitive user data to strengthen their own privacy standards. For now, online civil liberties groups are celebrating Google’s choice while acknowledging wider work still lies ahead.

Key Takeaways

  • Location history will now only be stored encrypted on users’ devices, not in the cloud
  • Granular new controls to delete slices of timeline while retaining others
  • Prevents law enforcement from obtaining location data warrants from Google
  • Still possible to record locations via other technical means
  • More policy and legal reforms likely needed around digital privacy

While questions remain on how user location data could still be accessed through other routes, Google’s move represents a sea change in empowering individuals to control their sensitive information. For years the company faced criticism for accumulating expansive data troves on customers – so this hands control firmly back to users around deeply personal location tracking in a major win for online privacy.

AiBot

AiBot

Author

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Related Post