Google as a search engine has always been the investigator’s first choice in searching for people or businesses on the Internet. There are, however, several additional Google tools that can be of great investigative interest:
Maps lets you plot any number of locations, directions to and from, and how these look from a satellite. However, another important aspect of Google Maps is Street View, which despite its recent troubles in the media over privacy issues, provides important location intelligence. You can get virtually a 360 degree view of any location, including nearby buildings, landscaping and traffic patterns. Recently the NYPD even used Street View images in a prosecution of a drug case. Seven people were indicted for selling heroin in Brooklyn.
Picasa is an image-sharing service, enabling easy photo upload to albums, social sharing – and geotagging. Not only can investigators can search Picasa for “tags,” or labels including names or descriptions; they can also see geotags providing the image’s location.
Picasa adds the latitude and longitude into the EXIF data of the image file if the user selects a location through Picasa. Other embedded EXIF can still be present and not stripped from the photo. You can also find the latitude and longitude data listed under the “more info” link in the sidebar on the image page.
Always remember that if the photo is geotagged through Picasa, this information is user input and could be incorrect.
Realtime is a service that lets you “see up-to-the-second social updates, news articles and blog posts about hot topics around the world.” This is a new feature that has a lot of potential. As investigations require more information from the Internet contemporaneous to the crime, investigators can gain better situational awareness of their investigations from a wide variety of sources.
If the website or blog you are interested in has an RSS feed, use Google Reader to save time. Reader automates site/blog updates, pulling them in so that you don’t have to remember to visit the website. This can be especially useful if you are working on a long-term investigation or gathering intelligence over a period of weeks or months.
Another Google Reader feature is the ability to arrange blog subscriptions into folders. This can make them easier to parse, especially if you subscribe to many blogs.
Third: the ability to follow people to see what content they share from their blog subscriptions. This can be an important source of intelligence, as it can uncover other blogs via other users.
An investigator favorite should be Google Alerts. Google Alerts emails daily updates to you of the latest Google news and blog results based on topics, names or search terms you add.
Some examples of using Google alerts for the investigator can include:
- the name of a suspect or subject of an investigation
- a company product name (assists you in product protection)
- company principals’ names (useful for identity theft protection)
- competitors’ names
- your favorite topic
A caveat: search terms don’t always turn up the results you want, so you may need to tweak the keywords you search on. Refine them using the same rules as for other search engines: enclose specific phrases (like names) in quotation marks, and add plus or minus signs to make sure that Google only returns items with two terms mentioned in the same article (for instance, esi + “social networking”) or eliminates items with a particular term (such as esi – email).
With the international flavor of Internet investigations today, investigators will invariably encounter foreign languages during their investigations. Google Translate aids the investigator in the examination of websites in almost any foreign language.
Not long ago you had to copy and paste content into the Google Translate box. No more – now, when you have the Google toolbar installed, a pop-up header will notify you when you are on a foreign-language site and asks if you want to translate into one of 50+ languages. The translator isn’t perfect; some words have no English equivalent. But it’s certainly more than enough to get the site’s gist.
Google Patent Search
Investigating theft of intellectual property? Find out more about patents and their holders with Google Patent Search; enter the relevant keywords (again, this may take tweaking) and find the relevant information. (Google also has a Product Search, but this returns results that are not all that dissimilar from an ordinary Google search.)
General Google searches do not search the Usenet. However, Google has cataloged 20 years of the Usenet and and has made it available via Google Groups. Investigators can search the cataloged files for potential leads or intelligence on their cases.
Other Google tools
Orkut, not unlike Twitter or Facebook, is a social network popular in Brazil and India.
Google Voice, which allows you to pick a number in your own or your undercover identity’s area code, can be useful for undercover investigations.
Google Images and Google Videos allow searches for those two respective media. Useful for many different kinds of criminal cases including gangs, intellectual property theft, property crimes, and so on.
Google Trends show keyword topics that have trended through search recently.
Want more? Check out http://www.google.com/intl/en/options/ for a full list of Google tools, both beta and not.