Google plans to send your videos and photos to the police

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

January 30, 2014

Okay, the title may be a little on the sensational side, but Google has filed two patents, Mob Source Phone Video Collaboration and Inferring Events Based On Mob Sourced Video, which suggests a system that detects when ‘mob’ events are occurring through photo and video uploads to its servers, and which will then automatically forward them  to potentially interested parties, including the police,

‘Embodiments of the present invention take advantage of the fact that wireless terminals (e.g., smartphones, etc.) may have geolocation capabilities such as Global Positioning System [GPS] receivers, location estimation via Wi-Fi hotspots, etc., and may assign timestamps and geolocation stamps to video clips recorded by the terminal.

In particular, methods and systems are described for inferring that an event of interest (e.g., a public gathering, a performance, an accident, etc.) has likely occurred and transmitting a notification of the existence of the event to a particular recipient (e.g., to a law enforcement agency, to a news organization, to a publisher of a periodical, to a public blog, etc.)’  (Patent 20140025755).


That Google’s first thought is to send such data to the police is shocking, especially in the current climate of suspicion about government surveillance, and the role tech firms such as Google have to play in it.

In fairness, a number of images included in the patents make it clear that Google will request permission from an ‘Author’ of a photo or video before using it in such a way, but we still find the concept intrusive and creepy, especially when we consider that Google’s first instinct is to send it to a law enforcement agency!


 Furthermore, even if Google can be trusted to not just hand over users data to the NSA or other authorities regardless of being given permission from its users to do so, it is clear that government agencies can often simply grab it anyway.

We imagine of course that it will be possible to turn this option off (including disabling automatic uploads to Google+ altogether), but still.

The system is not entirely dissimilar to Google+ Events Party Mode , which lets you share pictures and videos taken during an event instantly with everyone at the party

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