Receiving an email from Google's legal investigations support team letting you know that your local police require information about your Google account would be unnerving, to say the least. This is exactly what happened to Florida resident, Zachary McCoy.
The 30-year-old had cycled past an elderly woman's house three times in one day, coincidentally the day she was burgled. As McCoy had used a cycling tracking app, Google saved all of his data, which was then shared with the local police force.
All McCoy had been doing was measuring his cycling distance.
How does the police get information about your whereabouts?
Even without you realizing it, Google can collect data from your Android or Apple devices. Without even using Google Maps your location can be discovered, and that's precisely what happened to McCoy when he jumped on his bike in mid-January.
The 30-year-old was logging his cycling trip on his Android phone via an app called Runkeeper. As the cycling app records his bike rides, it also records his location. It turns out that on the day that a 97-year-old woman was burgled, McCoy had cycled past her house three times.
When Zachary McCoy biked past his neighbor's house 3 times, he had no idea they were being robbed.— Third Row Podcast (@thirdrowtesla) March 8, 2020
But because he was using Runkeeper, which sent his data to Google, he became the lead suspect in the robbery after a police warrant pulled his Google datahttps://t.co/Kh7O1vd4HB
"It was a nightmare scenario," he told NBC. "I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike, and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime. And I was the lead suspect."
It all ultimately worked out fine for McCoy as his lawyer was able to render the police warrant "null and void." In this case, it was good that McCoy was able to walk away Scot-free, however, it highlights how technology can help law enforcement to try and catch criminals.
Even though this method faces privacy and civil liberty issues and questions, it does show how this type of technology could help solve certain crimes. One of the bigger issues at hand is the fact that a person, in this case, McCoy, could be completely unaware that their location is being recorded and saved by Google, even without using Google Maps.
Law Enforcement is abusing our location data and it's causing more harm than good - https://t.co/dIcVYjAF9Y— Android News Pro (@AndroidFaqs) March 9, 2020
Zachary McCoy enjoys riding his bike. It's a great way to get a little fresh air and exercise, and millions like him do the...
Google confirmed back in 2018 that it tracks user location data even when the location setting is off. Since then, the company has made efforts to improve privacy on certain devices. But McCoy's case proves that many users still aren't even aware of this, and of what happens to their data.