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Facial Recognition Deployed on Children at Hundreds of US Summer Camps

The Washington Post describes a parent whose phone “rings 10 times a day with notifications from the summer camp’s facial-recognition service, which alerts him whenever one of his girls is photographed enjoying their newfound independence.”

You can also call your kid if you think they look unhappy or if you are unsatisfied with them in any way and nag them. So kids mob photographers with big, fake smiles and beg to be photographed so their parents won’t harass them.

The companies have “privacy policies” that grossly overreach, giving them perpetual licenses to distribute all the photos they take forever, for any purpose. They claim to have super-secure data-centers, but won’t describe what makes them so sure their data centers are more secure than, say, the NSA’s, Equifax, or any of the other “super secure” data centers that have been breached and dumped in recent memory.

And while parents enjoy all this looking at their kids while they’re away in theory, they also report a kind of free-floating anxiety because they know just enough about their kids’ lives at camp to worry, but not enough to assuage their worries.

One overseer of two camps tells the Post that more concerned parents call her in two hours than used to call in an entire month. One company adds that their service is now being used by over 160,000 parents — and for children as young as six.

At least one camp takes over 1,000 photos each day — scanning each one with facial recognition technology — and the Post reports that facial-recognition technology has now already been deployed at “hundreds” of summer camps all across the United States.

Most camp directors said they appreciate that the photos can bring peace of mind to lonely parents worried about their kids’ first faraway solo trip. But the photos can also end up perpetuating a cycle of parental anxiety: The more photos the camp posts, the more the parents seem to want – and the more questions they’ll ask about their kids.

When a camper isn’t smiling or is on the outside of a big group shot, counselors said they know to expect a phone call from back home. Liz Young, a longtime camp director now helping oversee two camps on the coast of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, said she now fields as many concerned-parents calls in two hours as she used to get all month – mostly from parents asking about how their kids look on camera, or whether they’re being photographed enough.

One camp, Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods in rural Decatur, Michigan, has four photographers and a social-media director on staff to help push nearly constant updates onto Bunk1, Facebook and Instagram, where recent photos of kids jumping into a lake or firing bows and arrows have netted hundreds of comments and “likes.” The facial-recognition system is in its second summer at the camp, and roughly half of all parents of its campers have signed up.

Some of the kids, Hardin said, are so accustomed to constant photography that they barely notice the camera crew. It’s the parents, she said, who struggle with the distance – and who are desperate for the reassurance the facial-recognition systems provide.

Some parents race to share the photos on social media as a way to curate their kids’ childhood and offer visual evidence that their family is worth envying.

The photos could inflame new tensions for kids hitting the age – generally, in the pre- and early teens – when they can start to feel awkward about all the photos their parents post. But they can also foster unease for kids questioning how much of their emotions and internal lives they’re comfortable sharing in every moment, even when they’re far from home.

“There’s the contradiction of these really old-fashioned summer camps with no electricity in the cabins, no cellphones . . . but the parents can check in daily to look at the expressions on their kids’ faces,” she added. “Part of childhood development is: It isn’t always 100 percent smiling.”

FBI seeks to monitor Facebook, oversee mass social media data collection

The FBI is planning to aggressively harvest information from Facebook and Twitter, a move which is likely to cause a clash between the agency and social media platforms.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the FBI has recently sought proposals from third-party vendors for technological solutions able to harvest publicly-available information in bulk from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

Law enforcement has requested the means to “obtain the full social media profile of persons-of-interest and their affiliation to any organization or groups,” to keep track of users based on their neighborhood, and keyword searches, among other tool functions.

While the FBI believes that such tools can work in harmony with privacy safeguards and civil liberties, the mass collection of names, photos, and IDs — when combined with information from other sources — may do just the opposite.

Back in July, for example, there was a public outcry after it was discovered that the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were plundering databases belonging to the DMV for surveillance and investigative purposes.

Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Users’ Audio Chats

Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work.

The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.

Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.

Big tech companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. have come under fire for collecting audio snippets from consumer computing devices and subjecting those clips to human review, a practice that critics say invades privacy. Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software, and that similar human review was used for Apple’s Siri and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant. Apple and Google have since said they no longer engage in the practice and Amazon said it will let users opt out of human review.

The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg denied the idea directly in Congressional testimony.

In follow-up answers for Congress, the company said it “only accesses users’ microphone if the user has given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio (like voice messaging features.)” The Menlo Park, California-based company doesn’t address what happens to the audio afterward.

Pentagon testing mass surveillance balloons across the US

The US military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons, documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveal.

Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.

Travelling in the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 65,000ft, the balloons are intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats”, according to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defence company.

The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather.

A rival balloon operator World View recently announced that it had carried out multi-week test missions in which its own stratospheric balloons were able to hover over a five-mile-diameter area for six and a half hours, and larger areas for days at a time.

Ryan Hartman, CEO of World View, said that World View had also completed a dozen surveillance test missions for a customer it would not name, capturing data he would not specify.

“Obviously, there are laws to protect people’s privacy and we are respectful of all those laws,” Hartman said. “We also understand the importance of operating in an ethical way as it relates to further protecting people’s privacy.”

How America’s Tech Giants Are Helping Build China’s Surveillance State

The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and U.S. chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently. Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people…

Semptian presents itself publicly as a “big data” analysis company that works with internet providers and educational institutes. However, a substantial portion of the Chinese firm’s business is in fact generated through a front company named iNext, which sells the internet surveillance and censorship tools to governments. iNext operates out of the same offices in China as Semptian, with both companies on the eighth floor of a tower in Shenzhen’s busy Nanshan District. Semptian and iNext also share the same 200 employees and the same founder, Chen Longsen. [The company’s] Aegis equipment has been placed within China’s phone and internet networks, enabling the country’s government to secretly collect people’s email records, phone calls, text messages, cellphone locations, and web browsing histories, according to two sources familiar with Semptian’s work.

Promotional documents obtained from the company promise “location information for everyone in the country.” One company representative even told the Intercept they were processing “thousands of terabits per second,” and — not knowing they were talking to a reporter — forwarded a 16-minute video detailing their technology. “If a government operative enters a person’s cellphone number, Aegis can show where the device has been over a given period of time: the last three days, the last week, the last month, or longer,” the Intercept reports.

Amazon Alexa Keeps Your Data With No Expiration Date, and Shares It Too

If you have hangups about Amazon and privacy on its smart assistant, Alexa, you’re not alone. Even after Amazon sent answers to a US senator who had questions about how the tech giant retains voice data and transcripts, the lawmaker remains concerned about Alexa’s privacy practices. From a report:

Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May, demanding answers on Alexa and how long it kept voice recordings and transcripts, as well as what the data gets used for. The letter came after CNET’s report that Amazon kept transcripts of interactions with Alexa, even after people deleted the voice recordings. The deadline for answers was June 30, and Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, sent a response on June 28. In the letter, Huseman tells Coons that Amazon keeps transcripts and voice recordings indefinitely, and only removes them if they’re manually deleted by users. Huseman also noted that Amazon had an “ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.” But there are still records from some conversations with Alexa that Amazon won’t delete, even if people remove the audio, the letter revealed.

Smartphones and Fitness Trackers Are Being Used To Gauge Employee Performance

The passive system incorporates an app known as PhoneAgent, which was developed by Prof. Andrew Campbell at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College. Using the smartphone’s own sensors, that app continuously monitors factors such as the worker’s phone usage, physical activity level, geographical location, and the ambient light levels of their environment. PhoneAgent is also Bluetooth-linked to a fitness bracelet worn by the employee, which transmits data including their heart functions, sleep quality, stress levels, and calorie consumption. Additionally, Bluetooth locational beacons in the person’s home and workplace monitor how much time they spend at each place, and how often they leave their workstation.

All of the phone, bracelet and beacon data is transmitted to a cloud-based server, where it’s processed via machine-learning algorithms that were “trained” on the habits of people already known to be high- or low-level performers. When tested on 750 workers across the U.S. over a one-year period, the system was reportedly able to distinguish between individuals’ performance levels (in a variety of industries) with an accuracy of 80 percent. That number should rise as the system is developed further.

When Myspace Was King, Employees Abused a Tool Called ‘Overlord’ to Spy on Users

During the social network’s heyday, multiple Myspace employees abused an internal company tool to spy on users, in some cases including ex-partners, Motherboard reported on Monday.

Named ‘Overlord,’ the tool allowed employees to see users’ passwords and their messages, two former employees said. While the tool was originally designed to help moderate the platform and allow MySpace to comply with law enforcement requests, multiple sources said the tool was used for illegitimate purposes by employees who accessed Myspace user data without authorization to do so. “It was basically an entire backdoor to the Myspace platform,” one of the former employees said of Overlord. (Motherboard granted five former Myspace employees anonymity to discuss internal Myspace incidents.) The abuse happened about a decade ago, closer to the height of the platform’s popularity, according to multiple sources. In fall 2006, the platform signed up its 100 millionth user. Around this time, Myspace was the second most popular website in the U.S., and ranked higher than Google search.

Google Chrome ‘Has Become Surveillance Software. It’s Time to Switch’

“You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?” warns Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler.

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web. This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software…

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality… And that’s not the half of it. Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

The columnist concludes that “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop,” and argues that through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, Google “is the No. 1 cookie maker — the Mrs. Fields of the web.”

Do Google and Facebook Threaten Our ‘Ambient Privacy’?

Until recently, ambient privacy was a simple fact of life. Recording something for posterity required making special arrangements, and most of our shared experience of the past was filtered through the attenuating haze of human memory. Even police states like East Germany, where one in seven citizens was an informer, were not able to keep tabs on their entire population. Today computers have given us that power. Authoritarian states like China and Saudi Arabia are using this newfound capacity as a tool of social control. Here in the United States, we’re using it to show ads. But the infrastructure of total surveillance is everywhere the same, and everywhere being deployed at scale….

Because our laws frame privacy as an individual right, we don’t have a mechanism for deciding whether we want to live in a surveillance society. Congress has remained silent on the matter, with both parties content to watch Silicon Valley make up its own rules. The large tech companies point to our willing use of their services as proof that people don’t really care about their privacy. But this is like arguing that inmates are happy to be in jail because they use the prison library. Confronted with the reality of a monitored world, people make the rational decision to make the best of it.

That is not consent…

Our discourse around privacy needs to expand to address foundational questions about the role of automation: To what extent is living in a surveillance-saturated world compatible with pluralism and democracy? What are the consequences of raising a generation of children whose every action feeds into a corporate database? What does it mean to be manipulated from an early age by machine learning algorithms that adaptively learn to shape our behavior? That is not the conversation Facebook or Google want us to have. Their totalizing vision is of a world with no ambient privacy and strong data protections, dominated by the few companies that can manage to hoard information at a planetary scale. They correctly see the new round of privacy laws as a weapon to deploy against smaller rivals, further consolidating their control over the algorithmic panopticon.

Phones Can Now Tell Who Is Carrying Them From Their Users’ Gaits

Most online fraud involves identity theft, which is why businesses that operate on the web have a keen interest in distinguishing impersonators from genuine customers. Passwords help. But many can be guessed or are jotted down imprudently. Newer phones, tablets, and laptop and desktop computers often have beefed-up security with fingerprint and facial recognition. But these can be spoofed. To overcome these shortcomings the next level of security is likely to identify people using things which are harder to copy, such as the way they walk. Many online security services already use a system called device fingerprinting. This employs software to note things like the model type of a gadget employed by a particular user; its hardware configuration; its operating system; the apps which have been downloaded onto it; and other features, including sometimes the Wi-Fi networks it regularly connects through and devices like headsets it plugs into.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an American analytics firm, has catalogued more than 4 billion phones, tablets and other computers in this way for banks and other clients. Roughly 7% of them have been used for shenanigans of some sort. But device fingerprinting is becoming less useful. Apple, Google and other makers of equipment and operating systems have been steadily restricting the range of attributes that can be observed remotely. That is why a new approach, behavioral biometrics, is gaining ground. It relies on the wealth of measurements made by today’s devices. These include data from accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors, that reveal how people hold their phones when using them, how they carry them and even the way they walk. Touchscreens, keyboards and mice can be monitored to show the distinctive ways in which someone’s fingers and hands move. Sensors can detect whether a phone has been set down on a hard surface such as a table or dropped lightly on a soft one such as a bed. If the hour is appropriate, this action could be used to assume when a user has retired for the night. These traits can then be used to determine whether someone attempting to make a transaction is likely to be the device’s habitual user.

If used wisely, the report says behavioral biometrics could be used to authenticate account-holders without badgering them for additional passwords or security questions; it could even be used for unlocking the doors of a vehicle once the gait of the driver, as measured by his phone, is recognized, for example.

“Used unwisely, however, the system could become yet another electronic spy, permitting complete strangers to monitor your actions, from the moment you reach for your phone in the morning, to when you fling it on the floor at night,” the report adds.

Thanks To Facebook, Your Cellphone Company Is Watching You More Closely Than Ever

A confidential Facebook document reviewed by The Intercept shows that Facebook courts carriers, along with phone makers — some 100 different companies in 50 countries — by offering the use of even more surveillance data, pulled straight from your smartphone by Facebook itself.

Offered to select Facebook partners, the data includes not just technical information about Facebook members’ devices and use of Wi-Fi and cellular networks, but also their past locations, interests, and even their social groups. This data is sourced not just from the company’s main iOS and Android apps, but from Instagram and Messenger as well. The data has been used by Facebook partners to assess their standing against competitors, including customers lost to and won from them, but also for more controversial uses like racially targeted ads.

Some experts are particularly alarmed that Facebook has marketed the use of the information — and appears to have helped directly facilitate its use, along with other Facebook data — for the purpose of screening customers on the basis of likely creditworthiness. Such use could potentially run afoul of federal law, which tightly governs credit assessments. Facebook said it does not provide creditworthiness services and that the data it provides to cellphone carriers and makers does not go beyond what it was already collecting for other uses.

Google Uses Gmail To Track a History of Things You Buy — and It’s Hard To Delete

CNBC’s Todd Haselton has discovered that Google saves years of information on the purchases you’ve made, even outside Google, and pulls this information from Gmail.

A page called “Purchases” shows an accurate list of many — though not all — of the things I’ve bought dating back to at least 2012. I made these purchases using online services or apps such as Amazon, DoorDash or Seamless, or in stores such as Macy’s, but never directly through Google. But because the digital receipts went to my Gmail account, Google has a list of info about my buying habits. Google even knows about things I long forgot I’d purchased, like dress shoes I bought inside a Macy’s store on Sept. 14, 2015.

But there isn’t an easy way to remove all of this. You can delete all the receipts in your Gmail inbox and archived messages. But, if you’re like me, you might save receipts in Gmail in case you need them later for returns. There is no way to delete them from Purchases without also deleting them from Gmail — when you click on the “Delete” option in Purchases, it simply guides you back to the Gmail message. Google’s privacy page says that only you can view your purchases. But it says “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services ” and that you can see and delete this information on a separate “My Activity” page. Except you can’t. Google’s activity controls page doesn’t give you any ability to manage the data it stores on Purchases.

Google says you can turn off the tracking entirely, but when CNBC tried this, it didn’t work.

Google Home calls the Police, always listening

According to ABC News, officers were called to a home outside Albuquerque, New Mexico this week when a Google Home called 911 and the operator heard a confrontation in the background. Police say that Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at the residence with his girlfriend and their daughter. Barros allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend when they got into an argument and asked her: “Did you call the sheriffs?” Google Home apparently heard “call the sheriffs,” and proceeded to call the sheriffs. A SWAT team arrived at the home and after negotiating for hours, they were able to take Barros into custody… “The unexpected use of this new technology to contact emergency services has possibly helped save a life,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Manuel Gonzales III said in a statement.

“It’s easy to imagine police getting tired of being called to citizen’s homes every time they watch the latest episode of Law and Order,” quips Gizmodo. But they also call the incident “a clear reminder that smart home devices are always listening.”

Chinese companies using GPS tracking device smartwatches to monitor, alert street cleaners

Street cleaners in parts of China are reportedly being forced to wear GPS-tracking smartwatches so employers can monitor how hard they work, sparking public outrage and concern over increasing mass surveillance across the country.

If the smartwatch detects a worker standing still for over 20 minutes, it sounds an alarm. “Add oil, add oil [work harder, work harder!],” the wristbands’ alarm says, several cleaners from the eastern city of Nanjing told Jiangsu Television earlier this month.

The smartwatch not only tracks the cleaners’ locations but also reports their activity back to the company’s control room, where a big screen displays their locations as a cluster of red dots on a map.

“It knows everything,” an anonymous cleaner told a reporter in the Jiangsu Television report. “Supervisors will come if we don’t move after hearing the alarm.”

Following backlash, the company said it removed the alarm function from the smartwatch, but reports maintain the employees are still being required to wear the device so their location can be tracked.

The Chinese Government is already in the process of building a Social Credit System aimed at monitoring the behaviour of its 1.4 billion citizens with the help an extensive network of CCTV cameras and facial recognition technology.

Senior researcher for Human Rights Watch China Maya Wang said the use of surveillance technology by the Government was sending private companies a message that it was “okay to [monitor] people”.

We’re All Being Judged By a Secret ‘Trustworthiness’ Score

Nearly everything we buy, how we buy, and where we’re buying from is secretly fed into AI-powered verification services that help companies guard against credit-card and other forms of fraud, according to the Wall Street Journal.

More than 16,000 signals are analyzed by a service called Sift, which generates a “Sift score” ranging from 1 to 100. The score is used to flag devices, credit cards and accounts that a vendor may want to block based on a person or entity’s overall “trustworthiness” score, according to a company spokeswoman.

From the Sift website: “Each time we get an event be it a page view or an API event we extract features related to those events and compute the Sift Score. These features are then weighed based on fraud we’ve seen both on your site and within our global network, and determine a user’s Score. There are features that can negatively impact a Score as well as ones which have a positive impact.”

The system is similar to a credit score except there’s no way to find out your own Sift score.

Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem

Airbnb’s rules allow cameras outdoors and in living rooms and common areas, but never in bathrooms or anywhere guests plan to sleep, including rooms with foldout beds. Starting in early 2018, Airbnb added another layer of disclosure: If hosts indicate they have cameras anywhere on their property, guests receive a pop-up informing them where the cameras are located and where they are aimed. To book the property, the guests must click “agree,” indicating that they’re aware of the cameras and consent to being filmed.

Of course, hosts have plenty of reason to train cameras on the homes they rent out to strangers. They can catch guests who attempt to steal, or who trash the place, or who initially say they’re traveling alone, then show up to a property with five people. A representative for Airbnb’s Trust & Safety communications department told me the company tries to filter out hosts who may attempt to surveil guests by matching them against sex-offender and felony databases. The company also uses risk scores to flag suspicious behavior, in addition to reviewing and booting hosts with consistently poor scores.

If a guest contacts Airbnb’s Trust & Safety team with a complaint about a camera, employees offer new accommodations if necessary and open an investigation into the host. […] But four guests who found cameras in their rentals told The Atlantic the company has inconsistently applied its own rules when investigating their claims, providing them with incorrect information and making recommendations that they say risked putting them in harm’s way. “There have been super terrible examples of privacy violations by AirBnB hosts, e.g., people have found cameras hidden in alarm clocks in their bedrooms,” wrote Jeff Bigham, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon whose claim was initially denied after he reported cameras in his rental. “I feel like our experience is in some ways more insidious. If you find a truly hidden camera in your bedroom or bathroom, Airbnb will support you. If you find an undisclosed camera in the private living room, Airbnb will not support you.”

Amazon and Google Fight Bill That Prohibits Secretly Recording You

On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon — makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively — and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out… In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won’t be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes.

Ars Technica notes the move comes after Amazon admitted thousands of their employees listen to Alexa recordings — “something not mentioned in Echo’s terms of service or FAQ pages.”

Vice points out that sometimes those recordings are shared “even after users opt out of having their data used in the program.”

Police Are Using Google’s Location Data From ‘Hundreds of Millions’ of Phones

Police have used information from the search giant’s Sensorvault database to aid in criminal cases across the country, according to a report Saturday by The New York Times. The database has detailed location records from hundreds of millions of phones around the world, the report said. It’s meant to collect information on the users of Google’s products so the company can better target them with ads, and see how effective those ads are. But police have been tapping into the database to help find missing pieces in investigations.

Law enforcement can get “geofence” warrants seeking location data. Those kinds of requests have spiked in the last six months, and the company has received as many as 180 requests in one week, according to the report…. For geofence warrants, police carve out a specific area and time period, and Google can gather information from Sensorvault about the devices that were present during that window, according to the report. The information is anonymous, but police can analyze it and narrow it down to a few devices they think might be relevant to the investigation. Then Google reveals those users’ names and other data, according to the Times…

[T]he AP reported last year that Google tracked people’s location even after they’d turned off location-sharing on their phones.

Google’s data dates back “nearly a decade,” the Times reports — though in a statement, Google’s director of law enforcement and information security insisted “We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement.” (The Times also interviewed a man who was arrested and jailed for a week last year based partly on Google’s data — before eventually being released after the police found a more likely suspect.)

Two-Thirds of Consumers Don’t Expect Google To Track Them the Way It Does

Last summer, an AP investigation found that Google’s location tracking remains on even if you turn it off in Google Maps, Search, and other apps. Research from Vanderbilt professor Douglas Schmidt found that Google engages in “passive” data collection, often without the user’s knowledge. His research also showed that Google utilizes data collected from other sources to de-anonymize existing user data.

Digital Content Next, the trade association of online publishers, surveyed a nationally representative sample to find out what people expect from Google — and, as with a similar study we conducted last year about Facebook, the results were unsettling.

Our findings show that many of Google’s data practices deviate from consumer expectations. We find it even more significant that consumer’s expectations are at an all-time low even after 2018, a year in which awareness around consumer privacy reached peak heights.

The results of the study are consistent with our Facebook study: People don’t want surveillance advertising. A majority of consumers indicated they don’t expect to be tracked across Google’s services, let alone be tracked across the web in order to make ads more targeted.

There was only one question where a small majority of respondents felt that Google was acting according to their expectations. That was about Google merging data from search queries with other data it collects on its own services. They also don’t expect Google to connect the data back to the user’s personal account, but only by a small majority. Google began doing both of these in 2016 after previously promising it wouldn’t.