Google Timeline Knows Where You Have Been

December 16, 2015

We understand that to get the most out of the Internet, we sacrifice a bit of privacy; but do we all understand how far-reaching that sacrifice can be? The Intercept reveals “How Law Enforcement Can Use Google Timeline to Track Your Every Move.” For those who were not aware, Google helpfully stores all the places you (or your devices) have traveled, down to longitude and latitude, in Timeline. Now, with an expansion launched in July 2015, that information goes back years, instead of just six months. Android users must actively turn this feature off to avoid being tracked.

The article cites a report titled “Google Timelines: Location Investigations Involving Android Devices.” Written by a law-enforcement trainer, the report is a tool for investigators. To be fair, the document does give a brief nod to privacy concerns; at the same time, it calls it “unfortunate” that Google allows users to easily delete entries in their Timelines. Reporter Jana Winter writes:

“The 15-page document includes what information its author, an expert in mobile phone investigations, found being stored in his own Timeline: historic location data — extremely specific data — dating back to 2009, the first year he owned a phone with an Android operating system. Those six years of data, he writes, show the kind of information that law enforcement investigators can now obtain from Google….

“The ability of law enforcement to obtain data stored with privacy companies is similar — whether it’s in Dropbox or iCloud. What’s different about Google Timeline, however, is that it potentially allows law enforcement to access a treasure trove of data about someone’s individual movement over the course of years.”

For its part, Google admits they “respond to valid legal requests,” but insists the bar is high; a simple subpoena has never been enough, they insist. That is some comfort, I suppose.

Cynthia Murrell, December 16, 2015

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