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Report: Google Can Track You Even When Your Phone’s Off

by Anthony Accurso 

An article recently published on highlights various ways the U.S. government and corporations track one’s everyday movements through his or her cellphone and singles out Google’s Sensorvault project for scrutiny. 

Between the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, the efforts of organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”), and various investigative reporting outlets, Americans have been told time and again that they are under ever-increasing surveillance. We “opt-in” to data collection in exchange for various conveniences and entertainments, but we rarely understand the consequences of doing so. 

A great many Americans carry smartphones without understanding their true surveillance potential. In 2010, The Washington Post revealed the NSA has the means to locate cellphones “even when they are turned off” and had used this technology in pursuit of terrorist targets in Iraq. 

Even closer to home, it was reported in 2016 that the FBI has a technique called the “roving bug,” which allows them to enable your phone’s microphone, converting it to a listening device without your knowledge. And while many Americans are aware that Google collects their “data,” few understand the true extent of this surveillance. 

A bipartisan group from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai seeking written answers to questions about Sensorvault, as well as a “briefing” with committee staff.

Sensorvault is a database that tracks and stores the location data from every Google device and account, going back to 2009. This data, available to law enforcement through what is known as a “geo-fence warrant,” allows an agency to pinpoint all the devices near the location a crime was committed, and follow them through time and place, effectively “tailing” users without having to physically follow them. 

The EFF’s Jennifer Lynch says such warrants are the kind of fishing expeditions the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect us against, turning innocent people into suspects simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The article closes with a plea for Americans to push back against such invasions of privacy by withdrawing support, financially and socially, from companies such as Google, which continue to disrespect users and their data. 

We will see if Americans have the will to do anything about the intersection of corporations and government in the age of big data and mass surveillance. 



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