Google Maps to Stop Revealing Users’ Presence Near Crimes to Law Enforcement

Google Maps to Stop Informing Law Enforcement about Users in Proximity to Crimes (Image: Vanity Fair)
Google Maps to Stop Informing Law Enforcement about Users in Proximity to Crimes (Image: Vanity Fair)

Google is making a significant change to its Google Maps tool, specifically the Location History feature. In a recent blog post, the tech giant announced that it will no longer have access to users’ individual location histories. This move aims to enhance user privacy by preventing Google from responding to law enforcement warrants seeking data on everyone present near a crime scene.

Google Maps Changes Location History Feature

The Location History feature, which Google Maps claims is turned off by default, assists users in recalling their past locations. Under the upcoming changes, for users who have this feature enabled, location data will be stored directly on their devices, making it inaccessible to Google. Consequently, this also blocks law enforcement agencies from compelling Google to provide such information.

Marlo McGriff, the director of product for Google Maps, emphasized the personal nature of location information, stating, “Your location information is personal. We’re committed to keeping it safe, private, and in your control.”

This alteration follows a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation revealing a growing trend of law enforcement obtaining location and search data from Google through warrants, even in nonviolent cases unrelated to the crime. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit advocating for digital civil liberties, has long urged Google to implement these changes, considering it a positive step for user privacy.

Jennifer Lynch, the general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised the move, stating, “It’s well past time.” She expressed relief for Google users who can now use features like location history without concerns about police access to their data.

Improved Privacy Measures in Google Maps

Google Maps plans to implement these changes gradually over the next year on both Android and iOS mobile operating systems. Users will be notified when the update becomes applicable to their accounts. Once the update is complete, Google will no longer be able to respond to new geofence warrants, even for individuals who choose to store encrypted backups of their location data in the cloud.

Jake Laperruque, deputy director of the security and surveillance project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, described this as a victory for privacy rights and a positive example for other companies. He highlighted the important legal argument that holding data as part of business operations doesn’t grant the right to share it with third parties.

While Google is taking a notable step, privacy advocates remain concerned about another type of warrant – reverse keyword search warrants. These warrants allow police to request data on individuals who have searched for a specific term. Jennifer Lynch emphasized the sensitivity of search queries, even for seemingly innocuous terms like addresses.

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Source(s): Boomberg via Yahoo Finance

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