Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Google has announced some major changes to its Maps services which are set to enhance privacy for its users by a long mile. Google has announced that location data will now be stored directly on their devices, and that Google will not have access to the data anymore

Google has announced significant changes to its Maps tool, aiming to enhance user privacy by severing its access to individual location histories. This move directly impacts the company’s ability to comply with law enforcement warrants seeking data on individuals in the vicinity of criminal activities.

In a recent blog post, Google detailed the modification to its Location History feature on Google Maps.

The feature, initially turned off by default, aids users in recalling their travel history. Google revealed that, for users who opt to enable it, location data will now be stored directly on their devices, preventing Google from accessing and, consequently, thwarting law enforcement from demanding such information.

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Marlo McGriff, Director of Product for Google Maps, emphasized the personal nature of location information in the blog post, stating, “Your location information is personal. We’re committed to keeping it safe, private, and in your control.”

This adjustment follows a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation that exposed the growing trend of US law enforcement utilizing warrants to obtain location and search data from Google, even in nonviolent cases and unrelated to the crimes under investigation.

Jennifer Lynch, General Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised the move, stating, “It’s well past time. We’ve been calling on Google to make these changes for years, and I think it’s fantastic for Google users because it means that they can take advantage of features like location history without having to fear that the police will get access to all of that data.”

Google plans to implement these changes gradually over the next year on both Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS mobile operating systems. Users will be notified when the update reaches their accounts. Additionally, the company clarified that, once the update is complete, it will no longer be able to respond to new geofence warrants, including those related to encrypted backups of location data stored in the cloud.

Jake Laperruque, Deputy Director of the Security and Surveillance Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, lauded the development as a win for privacy rights, setting a crucial example. The move underscores the argument made by privacy advocates that merely holding data for business operations doesn’t grant a company the right to share it with third parties.

While acknowledging Google’s initiative, some critics, including Lynch from the EFF, highlighted that Google appears to be the only major tech company responding to geofence warrants in this manner. Notably, Apple, which also offers a Maps app, has asserted its technical inability to supply the location data police often request.

Privacy advocates remain vigilant, expressing concerns about another type of warrant known as reverse keyword search warrants. These warrants allow law enforcement to request data on individuals who have searched for specific terms, posing potential privacy risks even for seemingly innocuous searches.

(With inputs from agencies)

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