Google To Block Location Data Mining In Maps

Privacy concerns and the potential for geofence warrants have prompted Google to work on storing Maps user location-history data on the device rather than in the cloud. This is a change that will make it more difficult for anyone, including law enforcement, to access the data.

Google has faced pressure for years to change the way it stores user location history. The update to Maps will roll out during the next year on iOS and Android. The company announced the changes in a blog post this week.

The feature holding the data is called Timeline, which tracks all the places visited during a specific period of time. It originally launched during the summer of 2015.



The idea seemed interesting at the time, especially for Google. It allowed people to visit the places they visited in a tab on Google Maps.

The feature must be turned on manually, and is off by default. Users can delete all or part of the information at any time or disable the setting entirely.

Marlo McGriff, director of product at Google Maps, and the author of the post, wrote that “users will receive a notification on their when the update applies to their account.”

The change comes several months after a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation found police increasingly used warrants to obtain search and location data. This practice has been going on for many years. It just took a search warrant and lots of waiting for Google, Meta and other platforms with location information to release the data to police.

Google also plans to change its auto-delete settings, which previously was set to 18 months by default. The update resets the auto-delete to three months by default.

Keeping the location data when upgrading to a new phone will require the user to save the data locally and then back it up to the cloud. Google will automatically encrypt it.

Deleting activity such as searches, directions, visits, and shares will become easier with a few taps. The delete feature will roll out on Android and iOS in the coming weeks.

Privacy advocates are also concerned about something called a reverse keyword search warrant, where police can ask a technology company to provide data on the people who have searched for a given term. Jennifer Lynch, the general counsel at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Time magazine: “Search queries can be extremely sensitive, even if you’re just searching for an address.” 

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