Here’s another reason you shouldn’t trust Google with your location data.
According to a report in Wired, Google generously provided the FBI will location data on nearly 6,000 devices around the Capitol on January 6th:
— WIRED (@WIRED) November 28, 2022
The FBI’s biggest-ever investigation included the biggest-ever haul of phones from controversial geofence warrants, court records show. A filing in the case of one of the January 6 suspects, David Rhine, shows that Google initially identified 5,723 devices as being in or near the US Capitol during the riot. Only around 900 people have so far been charged with offenses relating to the siege.
The filing suggests that dozens of phones that were in airplane mode during the riot, or otherwise out of cell service, were caught up in the trawl. Nor could users erase their digital trails later. In fact, 37 people who attempted to delete their location data following the attacks were singled out by the FBI for greater scrutiny.
Geofence search warrants are intended to locate anyone in a given area using digital services. Because Google’s Location History system is both powerful and widely used, the company is served about 10,000 geofence warrants in the US each year. Location History leverages GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth signals to pinpoint a phone within a few yards. Although the final location is still subject to some uncertainty, it is usually much more precise than triangulating signals from cell towers. Location History is turned off by default, but around a third of Google users switch it on, enabling services like real-time traffic prediction.
Google claims they have a “rigorous process for geofence warrants that is designed to protect the privacy of our users”, but I’m sure all that went out the window in the name of finding right-wing ‘insurrectionists’ that rioted at the Capitol that day.
Just think of how many people who were scrutinized and perhaps harassed by the FBI because of this data, who were there just to lawfully protest on January 6th. Their privacy was violated all because the Google gave this huge swath of data to the FBI.
Just to be clear, they FBI didn’t come calling asking for this person or that person’s location data. They wanted the location data of EVERYONE that was in the vicinity of the Capitol that day and Google obliged.
As Mary Katherine Ham said this morning, “I’m sure this is fine and won’t set a precedent for dragnetting data of thousands of Americans at any protest/gathering the gov’t can argue included criminal activity.”