Google is making location data more private

15 Dec 2023

Image: © Diego/

For those who have it turned on, location history collected by Google will be deleted automatically after three months, down from 18 months previously.

Google will soon change to storing location data on a person’s local device instead of on company servers, a move that is likely to end the practice of geofence warrants used by law enforcement.

In an announcement this week, the Alphabet-owned company said changes to be rolled out throughout the next year will see user location history be stored on their device, giving people more control over their data..

This only applies to those users who have opted to store their location history on the Google Maps app (It’s off by default). The changes will be rolled out next year across iOS and Android devices.

Google confirmed that users will have the choice to back up their data on the cloud so that they don’t lose their data when their phone gets lost or replaced.

“We’ll automatically encrypt your backed-up data so no one can read it, including Google,” said Marlo McGriff, director of product at Google Maps.

He also confirmed that location history data will be deleted automatically after three months. Previously, this option was set to 18 months.

“If you want to save memories to your Timeline for a longer period, don’t worry – you can always choose to extend the period or turn off auto-delete controls altogether.”

Google will no longer have access to users’ location data, rendering it unable to provide law enforcement with sensitive information when issued with what is known as a geofence warrant, a tool used by governments to find out who was present within certain specified locations during a given timeframe.

Geofencing is the use of GPS and other location-based technologies to create a virtual geographic boundary. It has been designed, for instance, to alert a driver when their car breaks the speed limit.

“These warrants are dangerous. They threaten privacy and liberty because they not only provide police with sensitive data on individuals, they could turn innocent people into suspects,” Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blogpost.

“Further, they have been used during political protests and threaten free speech and our ability to speak anonymously, without fear of government repercussions.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic