The US law enforcement officials have been reported to tend to a particular Google database called “Sensorvault” to trace the location and other information about people as a part of their investigation. The news comes in when major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter are under scrutiny over the breach of privacy of their users.
Sensorvault, which is used by Google to collect information from Google products for ad targeting, contains detailed location records from millions of phones around the world, reported CNET on Saturday.
As an answer to the rising concerns regarding the use of personal data of people all around the world, the search engine giant said that the information acquired through the database is anonymized and that it reveals specific information only after the law enforcement has narrowed down the search to a particular device, that might serve the ongoing investigation.
“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” the report quoted Richard Salgado, Director of law enforcement and information security at Google as saying.
In order for officials to access Google’s database for investigation purpose, they need to have a “geofence” warrant — that specifies an area and a time period, making it easy for Google to acquire information from the devices that were available at the given timeline.
“We have created a new process for these specific requests designed to honor our legal obligations while narrowing the scope of data disclosed and only producing information that identifies specific users where legally required,” Salgado added.
While law enforcement getting the aid of tech companies is not a phenomenon that is unheard of, the use of “Sensorvault” data has raised eyebrows, given innocent people are also vulnerable to mistakenly being alleged of a crime.
“The New York Times interviewed a man who was arrested last year in a murder investigation after Google’s data had reportedly landed him on the police’s radar. But he was released from jail after a week when investigators pinpointed and arrested another suspect,” added the report, citing an example of an innocent man who was wrongly accused of a crime because of Google’s data.
Tech giants have recently been receiving flak regarding the countless data leaks, hacking and non-consensual collection of data scandals.
Facebook particularly, has been globally criticized as it admitted to sharing information of millions of its users with the British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.
Google too received some heat when it was revealed that the search giant keeps track Android users even after they have turned off the location on their devices.
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