One major argument put forward by the US administration in its major clampdown on Chinese companies such as Huawei, TikTok, WeChat and others is that they could transfer data of US citizens to the Chinese government. Apparent, there seems to be nothing wrong if the US government spies on its own citizens. That is what it looks like going by a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.
The report reveals that the US government has a contractor who embeds tracking software in over 500 mobile applications used by US citizens. The contractor is named as Anomaly Six LLC and is based in Virginia. According to the report, the contractor pays mobile app developers to include a self-developed tracking code within their apps. The trackers then collect anonymous data from phones running such apps. Anomaly Six then collates the data and sells it to the US government.
If this were to be Chinese apps carrying such tracking codes, the internet would be on fire right now but it is what it is. The report even clarifies that there is apparently nothing legally wrong in what the company is doing as long as the data is not being sold for commercial purposes such as advertising or marketing.
However, there are reasons to be worried even though the data is said to be anonymized. The WSJ notes that there are several ways by which such “anonymous” data could be used to figure out who owns the device. For example, the device will likely be idle at night while the owner sleeps, and the device’s location at that time is likely the owner’s home. Once that information is gotten, it is no difficult to start decoding other user habits, such as where they work, what they use to commute, where they go out to eat, etc. In other words, individuals can be tracked using such data.
Although Anomaly Six has confirmed the report, it refused to mention the apps with which it has partnerships. The Wall Street Journal has not been able to also get information on the apps by any other means. There is no available information on what the US government does with such data. The usual guesses will be law enforcement purposes or counter-terrorism.
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