US Army buys your location data from mobile apps: report

Key facts:

The Army would use Locate X, a product also used by the Secret Service.

The military would focus on two applications intended for the Muslim population.

The United States Army would be buying location data from various mobile applications, to track the movement of citizens around the world. This is indicated by a report from Motherboard, the technology wing of Vice magazine.

The text, published this Monday, November 16, exposes how the US military forces would be accessing sensitive data of citizens, using two modalities: a product developed for the Army and the purchase of data from a company that receives them directly from the applications.

One of the modes described is access to data through the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and Babel Street, with its Locate X product. USSOCOM is a branch of the military focused on terrorism, insurgent groups, and special recognition. With access to Locate X, the Army accesses data for use in special operations abroad, Motherboard notes.

The article cites the testimony of a former Babel Street employee, according to which “users of the product can draw a shape on a map, see all the devices on which Babel Street has data at that location and then follow a specific device to see where else it has been«.

In addition, it is mentioned that despite the fact that the Locate X data is in principle anonymous, those who use it have sufficient mechanisms and tools to know the identity of the users.

We could absolutely de-anonymize a person [los empleados de Babel Street] they would play with that, to be honest.

Former Babel Street employee cited by Motherboard.

The Babel Street case is not new. As we reported in CriptoNoticias last August, the Secret Service also uses this company’s services to spy on mobile application users.

Buying data around the world

The other mechanism of access to data is the direct purchase of these. Then, US military pays X-Mode company, which gets location data from applications. Upon receipt, X-Mode sells your data to Army contractors, giving military forces access, the report added.

According to the investigation, which cites anonymous sources with knowledge of the activities of the Army and the companies involved, the military particularly focuses on two applications used by millions of Muslims.

One of the apps, with about 100 million downloads on various operating systems, sets reminders for prayer and contains the Quran; another is a dating app dedicated to Muslim citizens. In addition to this, other dating apps distributed by countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Colombia are mentioned.

The United States military would leverage the location data for foreign operations. Source:

Other applications mentioned by the report are for storm tracking, job search and even a homework assistant with which you can learn how to install shelves, for example.

Although the report mentions the Muslim population and the aforementioned countries, this practice could be applied to any country in which the US Army or someone else wants to influence.

Privacy under attack

It is not news that military, police and espionage forces track citizens. Y doing so with data generated directly from mobile phones can make their work easier. With this data, they can trace patterns of behavior and even link the activity of different citizens with each other.

To protect yourself from this type of espionage, the National Security Agency (NSA) has its own recommendations. Although it was not the intention of the NSA to warn the public of these risks, a protocol intended for its agents was made public last August.

Basically, the NSA recommends keep GPS, radio, bluetooth and even mobile internet services off provided they are not being used. Regarding applications, the same agency advises to restrict access permissions to private data as much as possible. As we see with the case of X-Mode, this data has a price and buyers are not lacking.

Along with these recommendations, the security agency itself wants to increase its power to spy on citizens. As this newspaper reported at the beginning of November, the NSA is in a fierce struggle to increase the use of “back doors” that give it hidden access to users’ private data.