The U.S. military can seemingly locate millions of people around the globe, all thanks to a collection of "innocuous-seeming apps" that often have nothing to do with one's location, Vice News reports.
The military uses, or has used, two data streams embedded within hundreds of apps to obtain the location of devices around the world, Vice reports via public records, interviews with developers, and technical analysis. Apps embed a chunk of code sharing users' location with data firms, and are in turn paid for sharing that data. Contractors — or in this case, the military — can then buy access to this data.
U.S. Special Operations Command, which leads counterterrorism efforts worldwide, bought access to the Locate X data stream from a company called Babel Street, and used it "to assist on overseas special forces operations," Vice reports. The other data stream comes from a company called X-Mode, which is embedded in a step counting app, a Muslim dating app, and one used for tracking storms; X-Mode's CEO recently said it can track 65 million people worldwide.
The most popular among those apps is Muslim Pro, which helps Muslims pray and has been downloaded over 98 million times, Vice reports. That's especially "notable considering that the United States has waged a decades-long war on predominantly Muslim terror groups in the Middle East," Vice details, and because the U.S. military has used location data sourced elsewhere to map drone strikes.
Muslim Pro did not respond to Vice's request for comment. X-Mode said its partner apps are required to obtain consent from users before their location data is shared — though Vice found some of these privacy disclosures a bit "lackluster." Read more at Vice News.
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