Google has been talking big about user privacy lately, but how far does that actually extend? Newly released court documents show that Google has given authorities broad swaths of information revealing not just an individual's search history, but disclosing everyone who has searched for specific keywords at the wrong time.
While search history is traditionally obtained via a warrant put out on a single likely suspect, a recent court case shows that this isn't the only way to go about digging up dirt. A court filing unsealed last week shows that authorities in Florida sent a request to Google for information on all users who had searched for a specific address close in time to when an arson occurred. Google cooperated, sending investigators the IP addresses of everyone who had searched for those keywords around the time of the crime.
This may be a useful method of obtaining evidence, but it could also have far-reaching consequences for privacy. Whereas demands for sensitive information like this are typically narrowly defined to a suspect, keyword warrants demand data on large groups of people associated with searches for specific phrases and terms.
There are worries that innocent people's online history could be included in these requests just because they searched for the wrong thing at the wrong time. Reverse search warrants like these are being employed more frequently by police departments. While they can help to aid investigations, there are valid questions brought up about the dangers they pose to personal data.