Location Data: The Story Our Devices Communicate

By Josiah Roloff,

Location Data: The Story Our Devices Communicate

The notion that our digital devices communicate our location is concerning for many people, and understandably so. The truth is, our day to day activities are monitored closer than ever before. Location-based data provides detailed insights into a person’s life, habits and interests. Imagine your location is logged every time you pick up your phone to check an  email, tweet, “check-in” to a location on Facebook, snap a photo for Instagram, purchase from Amazon, request a ride from Uber, or look up the nearest coffee shop – the list goes on. This isn’t hypothetical, these actions can immediately log your location, often to multiple places by multiple sources for the purpose of understanding and influencing your digital behavior.

At Roloff Digital Forensics, we target and utilize this data to assist attorneys in the representation of their client. We might demonstrate or debunk a location-based alibi by verifying the specific geographical location artifacts while factoring in the places they come from and the overlap of additional technologies such as the surrounding cellular towers or terrain, that can add uncertainty (or the opposite) to the accuracy of the available data.

Depending on a person’s digital footprint, location-based data can be voluminous and stems from many places:

  • Personal digital devices: phones, tablets, computers, etc.
    • Images and videos you create, installed applications, wireless access points, global positioning system (GPS), wireless and cellular networks, etc.
  • The service providers electronic devices interact with: AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, etc.
    • Call/text records (CDRs) with accompanying site location, historical precision location data/nelos reports, etc.
  • The applications and services utilized on the device: Facebook, Kik, Google applications, Apple applications, third-party applications of many varieties and sorts that you’ve installed and given permission to access your “location data”, etc.
    • Much of this information isn’t easily visible to the user. But it can be found by forensically analyzing the digital devices, issuing subpoenas, court orders, reviewing locations/applications on digital devices, and with certain service providers; by accessing your account and locating the data that has been logged about your locations.

Location-based data can seem daunting and intrusive, but if found, collected, and analyzed correctly, it could contain the missing piece in your litigation.