The US military has bought location data from apps with millions of downloads, according to VICE

According to a VICE report, the U.S. military has been buying location information from conventional appssuch as a spirit level, a storm tracking app, or various apps for Muslim audiences. Several of them, with millions of downloads on Google Play.

In this way, the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) would obtain through military contractors information including precise location, Wi-Fi connection, time and mobile model, without in all cases the applications mentioning what exactly was done with this data.

The army wants to know your location

The U.S. special operations command has been buying, according to VICE, location data through military contractors and coming from two sources: Babel Street and its Locate X product and another company under the name X-Mode, which has an SDK that developers can integrate into their applications to earn money.

It is not the first time that these companies have been in the spotlight, as in August it was revealed that their clients included the US Secret Service, customs and border patrol, the immigration service and customs control. . Access to these data allows the army and police groups to obtain the location of a person without the need for a court order.

X-Mode’s website promises passive income by including its SDK in an app and even has an income calculator, according to monthly users

The location is collected in ordinary applications, many of which were aimed at a specific group. The X-Mode SDK is found in about 400 applications, although the report only mentions a few: Muslim Pro, Muslim Mingle, Accupedo, Iran Social, Turkey Social, Egypt Social, Colombia Social, Mobzapp, Global Storms, and Bubble Level.

Several of these applications exceed one million downloads, being Muslim Pro the most popular, with almost 100 million downloads between Android and iOS. VICE has reached out to several of the developers of these apps, many of whom weren’t aware of where users’ location data ended up. Some of the apps have included a new notice indicating the collection of data or have removed the X-Mode SDK after the report was published.

Muslim Pro, one of the apps that shared data with location and that has stopped doing so in the last update

To carry out this data collection, the applications need the user’s permission and specify it in the privacy policy, although even if the user is aware of said privacy policy, it’s hard to imagine the data will pass from hand to hand until he ended up in the armed forces.

According to a Babel Street employee consulted by Motherboard, the Locate X product allows you to draw an area on the map to obtain all the devices in that location and follow a specific one and, although the data is anonymized, « you can definitely de-anonymize a person« .

Via | Android Police


The US military has bought location data from apps with millions of downloads, according to VICE