[Ed. – Way, way past time to update legal thinking about how 4A applies to these cases.]
Raleigh police … drew shapes around the crime scenes, marking the coordinates on the map. Then they convinced a Wake County judge they had enough probable cause to order Google to hand over account identifiers on every single cell phone that crossed the digital cordon during certain times.
In at least four investigations last year – cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 – Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records. These warrants often prevent the technology giant for months from disclosing information about the searches not just to potential suspects, but to any users swept up in the search. …
Users can switch location tracking off to prevent the device from pinging GPS satellites. But if it’s on a cellular network or connected to Wi-Fi, the device is still transmitting its coordinates to third parties, even if they’re far less accurate than GPS.
In the past, at least, turning off that technology has been no guarantee of privacy.
Business and technology news site Quartz discovered late last year that Google continued to track devices even when all GPS, Wi-Fi and cell networks were supposedly disabled.