Apr 18, 2019 | Updated: 11:44 AM EDT

Google’s Location Tracker Helped Police Track Down Potential Suspects

Apr 16, 2019 10:00 AM EDT

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A Google that automatically logs information that is provided by the advertising and search giant's mobile applications is located in Sensorvault. The applications can gather data even when not moving, depending on the settings of the phone. But for Sensorvault to store the data, the user must have chosen the location history which is a feature that Google launched in 2009. It can store movements daily, based on raw data that is recorded through the applications.

Police authorities do not request the phone data of a suspect, they instead serve reverse location warrants known as geofence warrants. These can get anonymous locations and IDs relating to all the phones found in a particular time and a particular area.

Police officers analyze the data gathered, looking for any movement patterns that can be connected with the suspects or witnesses. Once they narrow down the search to less devices, they can request the names of the users and other information that they will need directly from Google.

The report showed and highlighted a lot of instances in which the law enforcement had used. They've included the bombings in Austin, Texas in March 2018 and the murder in Florida in 2016.

Sometimes, warrants can gather data on thousands of individual devices, as this was done with a home invasion investigation in Minnesota last year. It was reported however, that the use of location data had been the reason behind some mistakes.

One case saw police authorities arrest Jorge Molina, an Arizona warehouse worker, after gathering all of his phone data through a geofence warrant. They released him a week later when his friends provided information that placed him in a different location at the time of the shooting. They then arrested his mother's ex-boyfriend, who also use Molina's vehicle.

Geofence warrants offer a way around a ruling from the Supreme Court last year, which made it unlawful for law authorities and federal agencies to access a suspect's cell phone location records without a proper warrant. Geofence warrants allow authorities to go over a certain area and then use the leads given and surface it from the potentially large data set.

If you do not wish Google to save your location in Sensorvault, you can turn off the location history of your phone through your browser. You just need to log in to your Google account, click on your profile picture and choose the Google account button. Go to Data and Personalization and you can select Pause next to Location History. To turn off your location tracking, you must do the same steps for your Web and App activity.

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