An investigation has revealed how the U.S. military is buying granular movement and location data from everyday apps without our consent or knowledge.
Vice has learned via public records and other technical analysis that the U.S. military has been collecting our location data through two known channels — Babel Street, which created a product called Locate X to provide location data, and X-Mode, a company that buys location data from apps and sells it to third-parties.
Former Babel Street employees have claimed that, while the location data is anonymized, it was easy to deanonymize individuals and that employees did it frequently. The agencies that have used the location data include the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the IRS. Experts also worry that foreign intelligence departments may be purchasing the same kind of location data.
X-Mode, one of the companies that sells apps’ location data claims to track 25M devices in the US, 40M outside the US and has its SDK (the code that collects location data), in over 400 apps.
The apps sending data to X-Code include Muslim Pro, which has been downloaded almost 100M times, Muslim Mingle, Accupedo, Global Storms, CPlus for Craigslist among many others. Some app developers have a variety of different apps with the X-Code SDK, all tailored to a specific group of people or region.
These apps, nor X-Code, provide any kind of disclosure or ask for consent about the fact that this location data is being sold to the military and to military contractors.
Fortunately, you have more control over your location data than in the past several years. If you’re an iPhone user, we recommend turning on the recently introduced “approximate location” feature, which shares a more generalized location with apps, rather than exact coordinates.
Both Android and iPhone devices also give users more granular control over how they share location data with apps. Users can choose not to share location data or just share it when the app is open. We recommend choosing one of these two unless it’s absolutely necessary to share your location data with an app when it’s not in use.
To learn more about how the military and government agencies are collecting your location data, check out the Vice article here.