Google will quickly retailer Maps customers’ location historical past regionally on their units as a substitute of within the cloud, a giant change that may make it tougher for regulation enforcement to entry the information.
Controversial “geofence warrants” enable regulation enforcement to collect tech firms’ knowledge on cellphones which have handed by way of a sure space throughout a particular time interval. The FBI has used the warrant to gather details about a Black Lives Issues protest in Seattle as a part of an investigation into tried arson, as an example.
With privateness issues and the potential for geofence warrants to turn anyone at the scene of an alleged crime a potential suspect, Google has confronted strain for years to vary the best way it shops customers’ location historical past. With this replace to Maps, which is predicted to roll out over the subsequent yr, the tech large appears to be lastly doing one thing about it.
“Google made the transfer to explicitly deliver an finish to such dragnet location searches,” Forbes reports, citing a Google worker “who was not licensed to talk publicly.”
“We’re all the time engaged on methods to offer folks extra management over their knowledge,” Marlo McGriff, director of product at Google Maps, stated in an emailed assertion to The Verge. Google announced the changes in a weblog submit this week.
The change applies to the Timeline characteristic in Maps, which remembers areas the place customers have been beforehand. Location historical past is turned off by default, however for customers who decide into turning it on, Google has sometimes saved that data within the cloud. That’s what made it doable for regulation enforcement to request knowledge by way of geofence warrants. Now that location histories shall be saved in customers’ units, Google will now not have that mixture knowledge at hand to show over to police or the FBI.
Google says that customers will obtain a notification on their when the replace applies to their account. The change will happen progressively over the subsequent yr on each the Android and iOS variations of the Google Maps app. The corporate can also be altering its auto-delete settings, which was beforehand set to 18 months by default. With this replace, auto-delete shall be set to 3 months by default. For anybody who desires to maintain their location knowledge after they get a brand new telephone, because it’ll be saved regionally, they’ll again that as much as the cloud and Google will robotically encrypt it.
Whereas any tech firm may need to adjust to a geofence warrant, Forbes studies that the majority of those warrants goal Google. Democrats sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai final yr calling on the corporate to “cease unnecessarily accumulating and retaining buyer location knowledge,” particularly referencing 11,554 geofence warrants Google acquired in 2020. On the time, they have been fearful that the warrants may very well be used to focus on folks visiting abortion clinics amid a authorized crackdown on the process.