Tracking Phones Google Is A Dragnet For The Police

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries writing for The New York Times:

The new orders, sometimes called “geofence” warrants, specify an area and a time period, and Google gathers information from Sensorvault about the devices that were there. It labels them with anonymous ID numbers, and detectives look at locations and movement patterns to see if any appear relevant to the crime. Once they narrow the field to a few devices they think belong to suspects or witnesses, Google reveals the users’ names and other information.


In 2009, the company introduced Location History, a feature for users who wanted to see where they had been. Sensorvault stores information on anyone who has opted in, allowing regular collection of data from GPS signals, cellphone towers, nearby Wi-Fi devices and Bluetooth beacons.

People who turn on the feature can see a timeline of their activity and get recommendations based on it. Google apps prompt users to enable Location History for things like traffic alerts. Information in the database is held indefinitely, unless the user deletes it.

The article goes on to describe a situtation where a man was arrested for murder because his location history showed him roughly taking the path of the vehicle used in the killing. He ended up being fired from his job and losing his car. It turned out, however, that he was innocent. He had proof showing he was nowhere near the crime scene at the time of the murder.

This is a terrifying use of location data. If you’ve got Google’s Location History turned on, probably best to turn it off.