A small US company with ties to the US defense and intelligence communities has integrated its ‘software’ into hundreds of mobile applications, allowing it to track the movements of hundreds of millions of mobile phones around the world, it reports. The Wall Street Journal.
This is Anomaly Six LLC, a company based in the state of Virginia, founded by two American military veterans. The company, a contractor to the US government, pays mobile device developers to include its internal tracking code in their applications. The trackers then collect anonymous data from the phones and Anomaly Six aggregates that data and sells it.
The WSJ report makes it clear that Anomaly Six’s tracking ‘software’ appears in more than 500 mobile apps. And although Anomaly Six itself disclosed this data in an internal document, it did not disclose the applications with which it has associations. The newspaper was also unable to obtain this information from other sources.
Developers often allow third parties to integrate their tracking ‘software’, allowing them to collect certain data about users in their applications, and users don’t even realize it.
It should be noted that the data obtained in this way is anonymous: each smartphone is indicated only with an alphanumeric identifier, without being linked to a specific user. However, according to experts, tracking the movement of a smartphone can help find out where its owner lives. Once that information is obtained, it is not difficult to start obtaining other user data, such as where they work, where they travel, where they go out to eat, etc.
Links to intelligence
Anomaly Six works with private companies, but it is also a federal contractor and has employment relationships with various US government agencies. When asked by the newspaper, the company asserted that it only sells location data of US users to private and non-governmental clients. , and that it could not reveal with which institutions it cooperates and what are its contracts with the US authorities.
It is not uncommon for companies to sell location data to government agencies or their contractors, the outlet argues, but it is unusual for a company with close ties to intelligence agencies to collect such data directly.