Big move! Authorities will not be able to access your Google Maps location history
Google Maps is undergoing a privacy makeover! Users Google Maps location history on devices will become extremely tough for law enforcement agencies to access. Google makes big shift amid rising concerns over surveillance tactics.
In a significant shift towards bolstering user privacy, Google has unveiled a comprehensive update to the Google Maps service, signalling a potential check on the reach of law enforcement. Notably, Google Maps location history data will become virtually unavailable to authorities.
How users can save their Google Maps location history on their handset
The announcement introduced a revamped policy, empowering users to store their location history, commonly referred to as "Timeline," directly on their devices rather than in the cloud. As part of the update, Google will reduce the default data retention period to three months. What users can do is selectively delete data linked to specific locations. Although the option to enable location history was already available, Google has now streamlined the process, allowing users to toggle these controls effortlessly while utilising Google Maps.
Google has provided a step-by-step example to make it easier for users.
Imagine you are planning a surprise birthday party, and you get Google Maps directions to a nearby bakery to pick up the cake. Soon, you'll be able:
1. See all your recent activity on Maps related to the bakery in one central place
2. This will make it easier to delete your searches, directions, visits, and shares with just a few taps.
3. You will be able to delete place-related activity from Maps after it starts rolling out on Android and iOS in the coming weeks.
Privacy Concerns Amidst Geofence Warrants
The move comes amidst growing concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of geofence warrants, which could implicate anyone present at the scene of a suspected crime. Google has been under pressure for an extended period to reconsider its approach to storing users' location history. With the impending rollout of this Maps update within the next year, the tech giant appears to be taking tangible steps to address these concerns.
Forbes, citing an unnamed Google employee "not authorised to speak publicly," reported that Google's intention with these changes is to put an end to extensive location searches often conducted by law enforcement agencies.
As stated in Google's official blog post, these alterations aim to provide users with "even more control over important, personal information." However, it is evident that this move directly hampers the efforts of law enforcement officials who have traditionally relied on Google's data collection for investigative purposes. Specifically, the use of geofence warrants, also known as "reverse location warrants," allowed authorities to legally compel tech companies, predominantly Google, to disclose location history data for identifying the movements of individuals in a particular area, irrespective of their suspect status.
The surge in the issuance of reverse location warrants in recent years is noteworthy. Google reported a substantial increase from 982 warrants in 2018 to 11,554 in 2020. In the following year, the numbers skyrocketed even further, with Google revealing a staggering 50,000 subpoenas, warrants, and other legal requests in the first half of 2021 alone, as reported by NPR.
Privacy advocates have long criticised such surveillance tactics as potentially unconstitutional, urging state governments to enact legislation prohibiting the practice within their agencies. With this revamped approach to Maps, Google is not only responding to user privacy concerns but also challenging the legal landscape that has allowed extensive access to location history data by law enforcement agencies.