"I was using an app to see how many miles I rode my bike and now it was putting me at the scene of the crime," the man said.

NBC News

© Agnes Lopez / for NBC News | Google tracked his bike ride past a burglarized home. That made him a suspect.

The email arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in January, startling Zachary McCoy as he prepared to leave for his job at a restaurant in Gainesville, Florida.
It was from Google’s legal investigations support team, writing to let him know that local police had demanded information related to his Google account. The company said it would release the data unless he went to court and tried to block it. He had just seven days.
“I was hit with a really deep fear,” McCoy, 30, recalled, even though he couldn’t think of anything he’d done wrong. He had an Android phone, which was linked to his Google account, and, like millions of other Americans, he used an assortment of Google products, including Gmail and YouTube. Now, police seemingly wanted access to all of it.
“I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew the police wanted to get something from me,” McCoy said in a recent interview. “I was afraid I was going to get charged with something, I don’t know what.”
There was one clue.
In the notice from Google was a case number. McCoy searched for it on the Gainesville Police Department’s website and found a one-page investigation report on the burglary of an elderly woman’s home 10 months earlier. The crime had occurred less than a mile from the home that McCoy, who had recently earned an associate degree in computer programming, shared with two others.
Now McCoy was even more panicked and confused. He knew he had nothing to do with the break-in ─ he’d never even been to the victim’s house ─ and didn’t know anyone who might have. And he didn’t have much time to prove it.
McCoy worried that going straight to police would lead to his arrest. So he went to his parents’ home in St. Augustine, where, over dinner, he told them what was happening. They agreed to dip into their savings to pay for a lawyer.
The lawyer, Caleb Kenyon, dug around and learned that the notice had been prompted by a “geofence warrant,” a police surveillance tool that casts a virtual dragnet over crime scenes, sweeping up Google location data drawn from users’ GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular connections from everyone nearby.
This article was originally published by NBC News.
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