April 14, 2024

Google to Empower Users with Location Data Control

Google has announced a shift in its strategy to store location data, empowering users with more access to location data storage. The tech giant will allow you to store your location data on your device rather than its servers, thus preventing law enforcement agencies from accessing the information.

This decision marks a departure from the controversial practice of allowing geofence warrants to the Police, where the authorities can tap the extensive location database of Google to identify suspects.

Reverse-location warrants or geofence warrants have witnessed a surge in recent years, with tech giants like Google collecting location data and storing them.

Thanks to the search warrants, the Police could compel Google to disclose information about the devices of the users in particular demographics at a specific time.

Critics Dub Geofence Warrants Overly Broad And Unconstitutional

According to critics, geofence warrants are overly broad and unconstitutional. It encompasses information about individuals who are innocent, and possibly ended up close to a crime scene. Besides, the legal community itself remains divided on the legality of such warrants. Thus, the US Supreme Court faces substantial challenges.

Once the new policy comes into force, law enforcement officials need to obtain search warrants for individual devices of users rather than requesting the same directly from Google.

Recently, Google made an announcement where they refrained from specifically referring to geofence warrants. Rather, it promised to help users with “more control” as far as their data is concerned.

Since Google has the largest database of location data, it has been the key target when it comes to geofence warrants.

It was back in 2019 that it was first revealed that the Police could tap into Google to obtain the location data of its users. This brings the surveillance technique to the limelight, which is more extensive than publicly acknowledged.

However, Google’s decision may not eliminate geofence warrants immediately as currently, its database contains massive volumes of historical location data.

In 2022, Apple received 13 such warrants, according to its transparency report. The company asserted that they couldn’t provide any data to oblige these requests since the information is stored on the devices of their users which the company cannot access.

Implications Of Google’s Decision To Empower Users

The decision to store location data on users’ devices can impact the power of law enforcement authorities to obtain information easily. Now, the Police face a more challenging task of obtaining search warrants for each device — an approach significantly different from its previous ones while requesting bulk data from Google.

Concerns have surfaced about the use of warrants to identify individuals seeking abortion care in states with restrictive laws or limited access laws.

Interestingly, the dependence of the tech giant on the location data of users has strengthened its advertisement business. It accounted for 80% of the annual revenue of Google in 2022, at around $220 billion.

The Police have heavily counted on geofence data in legal cases in the past. In Minneapolis, law enforcement authorities used this data to identify people attending protests after the death of George Floyd.

Google’s announcement has been praised by many organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). In its blog, the EFF wrote, “For now, at least, we’ll take this as a win”.

The organization challenged the constitutionality of the warrants. They consider the move from Google to be a positive one, besides raising questions about the “reverse keyword” warrant.

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