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Police are using the Google Maps Timeline to collect location information for cases

If you're one of the millions of people with a Google account, you have a Google Maps Timeline. It may be blank ̵

1; it's tied to the Location History setting that caused more confusion than necessary due to its name, and it periodically checks every mobile device linked to your account once you've agreed and opted in. For some people, this is useful for things like calculating mileage, for others, it may be a cool thing to see where you've been. For law enforcement, though, it's become a way to cast a very broad net when looking to see just who might have been around during a crime according to the eye-opening piece by the New York Times.

It's not a stupid way to catch the bad guys and a lot of details about how officials can use the information is a bit cryptic. But the recent case in Phoenix sheds a little light on how the service is being used or abused, depending on your point of view.

Google, like every company in the US, must provide any information that is accompanied by a lawful censure The company has a fairly good history of fighting these censuses, but in the end, a lot of data gets handed over when requested. Google's database of where you've been, internally known as SensorVault, helps the company show you location-based interests and ads. A new breed of warrant, which the NYT aptly calls geofence warrants will be taken to the Sensovault database in a way that would make the framers of the fourth amendment shiver.

Law enforcement can take the location and time of a crime and have Google tell them who was in the area. Google has a new way of trying to anonymize the data – the company provides a set of tokens that portray a account that police can track and then ask for more precise and identifying data for those that fit the scope of the investigation based on other evidence , such as video or eye-witnesses. The case, profiled by the Times, shows how this can be a backfire – a man who lent his car to a person who committed a crime and was unlucky enough to be in the vicinity when it was committed was arrested and spent a week In the jail as a suspect in a murder case.

Investigators also had other circumstantial evidence, including a security video of someone firing a gun from a white Honda Civic, the same model that Mr. Molina owned, although they could not see the license plate or attacker.

But after he spent nearly a week in jail, the case against Mr. Molina fell apart as investigators learned new information and released him. Last month, the police arrested another man: his mother's ex-boyfriend, who was sometimes used by Mr. Molina's car.

We are against the law enforcement using every tool in their disposal to try and catch a criminal. We're also not against anyone who wants to use a service that keeps a timeline of all the places they've been for any reason.

More: How to opt out (and delete existing data) of Google's Location History and Timeline features

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