It’s not clear whether either of the public warrants were filled. No Google-based evidence was presented in Graham’s trial, and the other suspect plead guilty before a full case could be presented. Still, there’s no evidence of a legal challenge to either warrant. There’s also reason to think the investigators’ legal tactic would have been successful, since Google’s policy is to comply with lawful warrants for location data. While the warrants are still rare, police appear to be catching on to the powerful new tactic, which allows them to collect a wealth of information on the movements and activities of Android users, available as soon as there’s probable cause to search.
Odd that this is news to anyone – and especially odd that police are seemingly only now catching on to this. I, myself, find this a fun and useful feature – especially while travelling – and since you can turn it off completely, I personally have little trouble with it, and I have fully considered the pros and cons of using this feature. That being said – the average user won’t know a lot about this feature and won’t weigh the options, leaving them exposed to potential warrants.
I wonder if there’s a way Google could ever set this up in a way that doesn’t potentially expose the data to police, much like end-to-end encryption does for instant messaging, while the data still remains useful for targeted advertising (Google’s bread and butter). Would it be possible to develop a system where only computers have access to the data for targeted advertising, without human intervention? Fully automated and closed?
If not, Google might want to reconsider this avenue of targeted advertising – which would mostly be for PR reasons, since carriers still have very comparable – if slightly lower-resolution – data.