It can be hard to gain any real perspective on the whole data privacy debate unless you have a few real-world examples of how allowing large corporations access to personal data can go awry. Google Maps and Google Location Services are a case in point.
If you have a smartphone, you probably have Google Maps on it. When you use it for the first time, you get asked in passing if you’d like to turn location history on. Most people will turn it on without a second thought. What it does, though, can be startling to anyone shown the results.
It’s called Google Timeline
Go to google.co.in/maps/timeline, and sign into your Google account. What Google Maps will show you right away, is a map of the country or the world, with a red dot representing every place that you ever visited (along with many false positives).
Google even keeps track of how fast you moved when you traveled to different places on the map, and gives you adds in indications for the different modes of transportation that you likely took. If you use Google Photos, Google even punctuates the timeline with these photos to give you snapshots of the times that you spent at various points on the map. When presented with a full surveillance-like the map of their activities, most people get creeped out.
Certainly, Google doesn’t use the timeline feature with the intent of stalking people. When you’re presented with a full map of all your activities, though, it can look like it.
Law enforcement could get a warrant for this information
Google stores timeline information for years together. If you like to carry your smartphone with you wherever you go, or you have Android built into your car, you’re giving Google information about every place that you visit. Whatever kind of interest the law may have in you, they can easily ask Google for timeline information. According to the study Google Timelines: Location Investigations Involving Android Devices, this information is available on production of a warrant.
Google actively works with law enforcement to help solve both dormant cases and ones under active investigation. With the ability of Google Drive to store personal information, law enforcement has a one-stop shop to go to for information.
Data privacy issues finally become clear
Google recently threw its support behind Apple when the smartphone maker refused to help law enforcement authorities break into an encrypted iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooters. To anyone who has seen the objections of privacy advocates as boringly academic, this issue can help crystallize matters. Allowing various services that you use to collect information on you can come back one day to hurt you. If you’d like to start by turning off Google location history, it would be a good idea.