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Biker used Google’s location data for tracking rides and that turned him into a burglary suspect

Zachary McCoy, who was mistakenly accused of the burglary, was later cleared of all charges.
Zachary McCoy, who was mistakenly accused of the burglary, was later cleared of all charges. (REUTERS)

The local police used a geofence warrant to cast a wider net in order to nab the person responsible for the burglary in the elderly woman’s house.

Location data is one of the most critical pieces of information that apps collect. This information not only allows them to give users results that are more relevant to their location, such as in case of food delivery apps, but it also allows them to track their movement as they travel between locations. This can be particularly useful when users are using an app's security feature or tracking their movement as they work out. However, this information can also be misused by governmental authorities.

In one such case, a 30-year-old man, Zachary McCoy, Gainesville, Florida was shocked to see an email from Google's legal team, which stated that the Gainesville police had requested for information pertaining to his Google account. The email also stated that the company would release the requested data to police if he didn't go to court to get the warrant blocked within seven days.

Shocked owing to the recent turn of events, McCoy hired a lawyer who upon investigation found out that the police had issued a geofence warrant to cast a wider net in order to nab the person who had committed burglary in the neighbourhood.

So how did McCoy's name crop up in the list of the suspects? Well, according to a report by NBC News, McCoy, an avid biker used the RunKeeper app to track his rides. On the day of the crime, he passed through the crime scene thrice. This tipped off the authorities as he crossed the house around the time when the burglary took place.

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When the police issued a geofence warrant, which required Google to provide the local police with information about the devices near the scene of the crime, McCoy's name popped up owing to the location data collected by the RunKeeper app for being present around the scene of the crime several times on the day of the crime. Before you ask, McCoy's RunKeeper app account was linked with his Google account, which is why when the police issued a warrant, Google was forced to comply.

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McCoy was eventually cleared of all the charges. However, the recent incident highlights law enforcement agencies were increasingly turning to geofence warrants to solve various crime cases. As per the report, requests for geofence warrants had increased by more than 1,500% from 2017 to 2018, and by 500% from 2018 to 2019 in the US. While these warrants do help the law enforcement agencies to nab criminals, it also violates citizens' right to privacy by giving unwarranted access of users' personal information to the authorities.

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