At a time when concerns over data collection and breach by tech majors are on the rise, it has been reported that United States law enforcement officials have been turning to a particular Google database called "Sensorvault" to trace location and other data of people as part of their investigations.
A recent investigation by the New York Times has revealed that despite Apple's claims of their iPhone being a privacy-focused mobile device, Google can still gain access to the information on Apple devices and hand it over to law enforcement. While the police could also pull similar data from a carrier's records of cell phone (Android or iPhone) to tower pings, the Google data is much more accurate with regard to a specific vicinity thanks to your smartphone's Global Positioning System.
But police have been tapping into the database to help find missing pieces in investigations.
According to an intelligence analyst who has examined data from hundreds of phones himself, the data collected included "most Android devices" and "some iPhones" which had their data made available to law enforcement by Google. Those kinds of requests have spiked in the last six months, and the company has received as many as 180 requests in one week, according to the report. Police have been providing Google with a type of warrant known as a "geofence" request.
"We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement", Richard Salgado, Google's director of law enforcement and information security, said in a statement. Google anonymizes the data at first, but it will provide names and other sensitive info if police believe it matches the behavior of a suspect or witness. The information is anonymous, but police can analyze it and narrow it down to a few devices they think might be relevant to the investigation.