Police Use Google Timeline To Track People

Google TimelineAs soon as Google announced the expanded location tracking for their Timeline tool in July, there was speculation about how police departments and government agencies could use this detailed personal information to spy on people through their current and past locations.

A recent law enforcement report details how Google Timeline can be used by police to review a person’s exact location history going back several years.

The report is called “Google Timelines: Location Investigations Involving Android Devices” and it gives details on how Google Timeline information can be used in law enforcement investigations.

The report was authored by Aaron Edens, a U.S. based law enforcement trainer, who has expertise in investigations that involve cell phone data.

Edens used the information he found in his own Google Timeline as the basis for the report. When Edens reviewed his own Google location history, he found six years of very specific location information about himself that went all the way back to 2009, the year he first bought an Android phone.

Aaron Edens’ 15 page report gives detailed information on the goldmine of location information that be be found on people through Google Timeline as well as advice on how law enforcement officials can obtain this information.

The same location history that Android smartphone users can use to review their past movements on Google Timeline with can also be used by law enforcement for investigating crimes and locating potential witnesses or criminals.

According to the report, location history from Google Timeline could be used to solve current crimes as well as cold cases since it is now possible to make legal requests for Google location information that is greater than six months old.

Google’s expanded Timeline tool lets law enforcement request detailed location history on a person from years ago that includes longitude and latitude coordinates. Prior to July 2015, police couldn’t request location information from Google that was over 6 months old.

However, relying on Google Timeline to track a user does have its flaws and weaknesses.

Google has made it very easy for users to delete specific times and locations in their Timeline as well as a range of dates and locations. Once a user has deleted information from their Timeline, it is not certain that it can ever be recovered again for use by police.

In addition, a person’s location history is only stored if they enable it through their Google account.

According to Google, a warrant is required before the company will provide a user’s Google Timeline information to law enforcement.  Google maintains that a subpoena is not enough for them to turn over user data to authorities.

For more information on Google’s expanded Timeline tool see: Google Maps Now Shows Your Location History.

News Source: The Intercept