In 2018, 23-year old Jorge M. was arrested on suspicion of murder.
According to a report, police told Jorge they knew “one hundred percent” his phone was at the scene of the murder.
Police in Avondale, Arizona held Jorge for six days while questioning him.
But it turns out Jorge wasn’t there.
He had simply given an old phone away.
An old phone that was still signed into Jorge’s Google account.
And during the police’s murder investigation, the officers obtained a geofence warrant.
A geofence warrant is a somewhat new, but popular investigative method used by police.
In the past, police would identify a suspect, then get a warrant to search their home or cell phone records.
But geofence warrants work in reverse.
Police come up with the time and location of the crime they are trying to solve.
Next, they request data from tech companies related to devices in the location and a time frame of the crime.
Sometimes the tech companies will provide law enforcement with anonymous data on the devices in the area.
These types of geofence warrants can gather data on one person or thousands of people.
But, police can get a warrant for more detailed information such as the e-mail address or name of the account holder.
According to Google, they experienced a 1,500% increase in requests from police from 2017 to 2018.
But it isn’t only Google…
Apple, Uber, and Snapchat have received similar requests from law enforcement.
And the reality is, this tactic can target any tech company.
With these types of warrant requests, the documents can often be requested under a gag order.
This means you would have no idea if you were part of a geofence warrant.
And, it wouldn’t take much bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To protect yourself from this invasion of privacy, here are a few ways to keep safe from geofence warrants.
Turn off Wi-Fi: When you are out and about, avoid using public Wi-Fi at all costs.
Not only is it dangerous from a cybersecurity standpoint, but it also tracks your location.
Don’t just avoid public Wi-Fi, but you should completely turn Wi-Fi off on your phone.
When Wi-Fi is on, your phone will always be looking for networks to connect to.
For instance, if you are walking down the street and walk past 5 different businesses your phone will pick up each Wi-Fi network.
So, even if you don’t login to the Wi-Fi network, your phone still detected it.
Now, imagine you are sitting at a bookstore and the coffee shop next door gets robbed…
A geofence warrant could put you at the scene of the crime.
Having your Wi-Fi turned off can help you avoid this.
Use a VPN on your Smartphone: Even with your device location turned off, a geofence can still establish your location through your device’s IP address.
VPNs (Virtual Private Network) allow you to hide your IP address by encrypting data and channeling it through another region.
For instance, you could be using your phone in New York, but the VPN would show you using a server in Dallas.
So, if you always have a VPN turned on, your device will not show the actual location you are in.
Turn off Google tracking: When it comes to geofence warrants, the biggest tech company to give up information is Google.
That’s because Google is known for tracking the location of its customers through a program called Sensorvault.
Whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone, if you use any of Google’s apps, they can track you.
For instance, if you have an iPhone but use Google Maps or even the Gmail app, Google can track your location.
But, you can turn this tracking off in each Google App.
If you use the Gmail app, go to settings, then to manage your Google Account.
Next, go to data and personalization, then scroll down to location history and turn it off.
Many smartphone users have come to realize that smartphones are always keeping track of what they’re doing.
But they don’t realize just how dangerous that tracking data can be – sometimes until it’s too late.
By taking these steps you can close one more method in the number of ways you are being unwittingly watched by your tech.