Google faces surge in police requests for mobile location data

Google faces surge in police requests for mobile location data

This is what a New York Times series investigating privacy in today's society has uncovered When Android users enable location history to get maximum usefulness from Google's services, user location history is stored in a massive Google database known internally as SensorVault.

For geofence warrants, police carve out a specific area and time period, and Google can gather information from Sensorvault about the devices that were present during that window, according to the report.

The database, that is otherwise maintained to collect user-information from Google products for ad targeting, contains detailed location records from hundreds of millions of phones from around the world, CNET reported on Saturday.

On coming under question of exposing personal user data to law enforcement officials, the search engine giant ensured that the information obtained through the database is anonymous and that it reveals specific information only after the police has analysed and narrowed down the devices which would be relevant to the investigation. Former Google employee Brian McClendon told the Times that the method seemed to him to be like "a fishing expedition".

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While most of us aren't going to be caught up in a crime, it is nevertheless concerning that your location history can conceivably be accessed by law enforcement, on demand, should the police want to know your whereabouts. Police admit these "geofence" warrants are exciting but caution they're no slam dunk, either.

Apple has attempted to brand the company as privacy-focused since 2016 when Apple refused to comply with a request by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to build a new version of its iOS operating software to break into the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, the man behind the 2015 San Bernardino shooting which saw 14 people killed.

"We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement", Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security, said in a statement.

However, Apple has also provided some information to law enforcement, with Cook stating in the 2016 letter: "When the Federal Bureau of Investigation has requested data that's in our possession, we have provided it".

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