AI & futurism

5 criminals caught by Detective Google Maps

The app's beloved by cops

cottonbro/Google Maps (edited)

Google Maps wears many hats. While mere civilians use the app for navigation, location information, or, err stalking people, cops tap the app to find criminals.

You may be surprised to learn that law enforcement officials in the US routinely mine Google’s location data in criminal investigations.

The tactic has sparked fears of privacy violations and false arrests, but it’s also led to a range of arrests. Here are five of the criminals caught on Google Maps.

1. A convicted kidnapper

A 2017 kidnapping and sexual assault case was solved when police used a geofence warrant to obtain location data from Google.

The victim had seen her assailant pull up Google Maps on his Samsung phone. The police used this information to order Google to search for devices that had been used in scenes linked to the crime, NBC News reports.

This led them to a suspect, who was later convicted of all seven charges related to the attack. The offender was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

2. A mafia hitman

A mafia member had his life on the lam curtailed after police spotted the fugitive on Google Maps.

Police believed Gammino was the man on the right of this image. Credit: Google Maps.

The convicted murderer had left a trail of digital footprints, from a Google entry for his greengrocer’s to a Facebook photo of his Italian restaurant. The 61-year-old was arrested in Spain almost 20 years after escaping from prison in Rome.

3. A pair of muggers

In 2009, twin brothers mugged a 14-year-old boy in the Netherlands. Six months later, the victim was surfing through Street View when he spotted his assailants.

“The picture was taken just a moment before the crime,” a police spokesman said.

After Google unblurred the photo at the police’s request, the perpetrators were arrested. One of them later confessed to the crime.

4. A trio of heroin dealers

Three alleged drug dealers were arrested in 2017 after they were captured hawking heroin by Google Street View cameras.

The suspects were among seven people arrested in an NYPD undercover sting operation, the New York Post reports.

5. A suspected thief

Street View also captured a suspected caravan thief who police believe was about to flee with a $16,300 (£12,000) tourer when the mapping car drove past.

The man was spotted on Google Maps by the 11 year-old-son of the vehicle’s owner. British police later arrested the suspect after Google agreed to supply unblurred images of him.

Crime and punishment

These arrests suggest Google Maps can be a valuable crimefighting tool — but they also show the app’s potential as a surveillance dragnet.

If you want to avoid Google’s all-seeing eye, you can turn off your location history by following this guide.

Apologies in advance for any future crimes that’s abetted — and a sincere “you’re welcome” for any that it’s prevented.

Published January 10, 2022 - 6:30 pm UTC

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