Google plans to release a significant update to its navigation platform, Maps. Instead of retaining the location history of Maps users in its cloud, the tech giant will soon store it directly on their devices. This modification is expected to increase the difficulty for law enforcement authorities to access data from Google Maps.
Over the years, Google has been under pressure to modify its approach to storing users’ location history due to privacy concerns. The potential for geofence warrants to consider anyone at the scene of an alleged crime as a potential suspect raised significant issues. With the forthcoming update to Maps, anticipated to be implemented over the next year, the tech giant appears to be taking concrete steps to address these concerns.
In an emailed statement to The Verge, Director of Product at Google Maps, Marlo McGriff said: “We’re always on ways to give people more control over their data.”
In 2022, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai also got a letter that asked it to “stop unnecessarily collecting and retaining customer location data,” as it received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020.
Google Maps includes a Timeline feature that retains users’ past locations. This modification will affect this particular feature. While the default setting for Maps keeps location history turned off, users who choose to enable it have traditionally seen that information stored in the cloud by Google.
This storage method has allowed law enforcement to request data using geofence warrants. However, with the upcoming change, this location data will be stored directly on users’ devices. Consequently, Google will no longer have access to aggregate data to provide to law enforcement agencies such as the police or the FBI.
The company is also tweaking its auto-delete settings, previously defaulted to 18 months. With this update, the default auto-delete setting will now be three months.
For individuals wishing to retain their location data, it will remain on their phone as it is saved locally. Google is also providing users with the option to back up this data to the cloud, and the company will automatically encrypt it.