Android phones telling Google where you were years ago

‘We shouldn’t allow the government to have such broad access to our digital lives’


(Image courtesy Pixabay)

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

If you had an Android phone five years ago, it might be telling law enforcement where you were back then.

That’s according to a New York Times report highlighted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

EFF said it’s a “little-known technique increasingly used by law enforcement to figure out everyone who might have been within certain geographic areas during specific time periods in the past.”

It uses detailed location data collected by Google from most Android devices as well from iPhones and iPads that have Google Maps installed.

“This data resides in a Google-maintained database called ‘Sensorvault,’ and because Google stores this data indefinitely, Sensorvault ‘includes detailed location records involving at least hundreds of millions of devices worldwide and dating back nearly a decade,’” EFF said.

The privacy group said the data Google is “turning over to law enforcement is so precise that one deputy police chief said it ‘shows the whole pattern of life.’”

“It’s collected even when people aren’t making calls or using apps, which means it can be even more detailed than data generated by cell towers.”

Google claims users opt in to the data collection. However, Google “makes it very hard to resist opting in, and many users may not understand that they have done so.”

“Also, Android devices collect lots of other location data by default, and it’s extremely difficult to opt out of that collection,” EFF said.

Then, using a warrant, police can track the locations of dozens or even hundreds carried by real people, “many of whom (and perhaps in some cases all of whom) have no tie to criminal activity and have provided no reason for suspicion,” EFF charges.

The tech apparently is being used by the FBI as well as police in Florida, Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, California, Arizona and Washington, the report said.

EFF said officers seek warrants for information about phones in a certain area and then specify further which phones they want more details on.

That means they’re fishing for suspects, which is a problem, the privacy group said.

“Second, as the Supreme Court recognized in Carpenter v United States last summer, detailed travel data like this can provide ‘an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his ‘familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.’ This is exactly what the deputy police chief recognized when he said Google location data ‘shows the whole pattern of life,” EFF explained.

“Every device owner in the area during the time at issue becomes a suspect – for no other reason than that they own a device that shares location information with Google,” said EFF.

EFF’s Jennifer Lynch wrote, “We shouldn’t allow the government to have such broad access to our digital lives.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s