As people become more conscious of the importance of data privacy, dominoes are beginning to fall. Earlier this week, we learned that the company behind the X-Mode SDK had been caught selling customer location data to government contractors. Now a new report claims that overseas surveillance vendors are siphoning location data from smartphones with the help of mobile advertising tools.
The report names two Israeli companies specifically: Rayzone and Bsightful, which is associated with Verint, one of the top surveillance vendors in the world. According to sources in the industry, the companies are able to obtain location data that's accurate to within a meter of the target, partly by taking advantage of tools built to help serve mobile ads.
A page on Rayzone's website describes its ECHO data collection service.
Smartphone apps share information like GPS data and what kind of device they're installed on with what's known as a Demand Side Platform, or DSP. Based on that information, advertisers can choose which devices to place mobile ads on. It's a complicated concept to wrap your head around, but essentially, the report alleges that surveillance companies like Rayzone and Bsightful may be obtaining this data by running their own DSPs.
Sources in the Israeli intelligence industry agree that the practice is booming, as it allows companies to provide worldwide location data to law enforcement, governments, and anyone with enough money and power who's interested in the information.
While many popular apps of today wouldn't be possible without mobile advertising, those systems are being abused at the cost of user privacy. Whether it starts with the mobile ad ecosystem or at a deeper OS level itself, it seems clear that something has to change.