US Military Buys Location Data from Apps in ‘War on Terror’

A report by Motherboard posted on Vice revealed that the United States military has been buying the location data collected by applications’ software development kits (SDK). These applications serve as info streams not only for the military but also for businesses.

Motherboard looked into this information gathering method conducted by various organizations, particularly the military through public records, interviews, and technical analyses. The researchers found “two separate, parallel data streams that the US military uses, or has used.”

These serve as sources for “granular movement data of people around the world,” said the report. The two streams are identified as Babel Street and X-Mode, both involved in military activities.

US Military Buys Location Data

Babel Street is known as the creator of Locate X, which the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) purchased for assisting overseas special forces operations. USSOCOM is a military agency responsible for counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance.

Meanwhile, X-Mode is involved in gathering location info directly from ordinary applications. It is known to sell data to contractors, which includes the military.

One of the applications tapped by one of these streams is a Muslim prayer app with more than 98 million downloads. A dating app with 100,000 downloads was also tapped. Muslim Pro and Muslim Mingle, which send info to X-Mode, is one of the sources of location data.

There is no denying that Muslims are targets of such monitoring, especially with the decades-long war on terror, which predominantly targets Muslim terror groups.

Similar data has been used by the army to launch drone strikes in the Middle East, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have died.

Locate X, on the other hand, uses anonymized info. However, a Motherboard source, who is a former Babel Street employee, said that they “could absolutely deanonymize a person” and that Babel Street employees could “play with it, to be honest.”

Aside from Locate X, USSOCOM also purchased “additional software licenses” for the product, as well as Babel X, another solution that lets users analyze texts. This purchase cost the army $90,600.

Regarding this purchase, Navy Commander Tim Hawkins, a US Special Operations Command spokesperson, said, “Our access to the software is used to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas.”

He added, “We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional and legal rights of American citizens.”

Meanwhile, some legislators have advocated for regulation of the practice of procuring data, said Business Insider.