“Our access to the software is used to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas. We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional, and legal rights of American citizens.”
In a shocking new report, it has been revealed that the US military is buying the granular movement data of people from around the world, from numerous different online apps. The most popular app that was connected to the US military buy-out is a Muslim prayer and Quran app called Muslim Pro, with more than 98 million downloads worldwide. Other apps include a Muslim dating app called Muslim Mingle, which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and similar Muslim dating apps such as Iran Social, Turkey Social, and Egypt Social.
Other apps that are involved in sending data to the US military-bought X-Mode include Accupedo, a step counter app; CPlus for Craigslist, an app that lets users search Craigslist more easily; and Global Storms, an app that follows and tracks hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical storms.
This new report has uncovered two data streams that the US military uses to obtain location data. One data stream relies on a company called Babel Street, which creates a product called Locate X. Curiously (or not so curiously), the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the US military that is tasked with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has bought access to Locate X in order to assist with overseas special forces operations.
Records show that when USSOCOM bought Locate X and another product that focuses on text analysis called Babel X in April of this year, the total cost was around $90,600. Navy Commander Tim Hawkins, a US Special Operations Command spokesperson, has confirmed the Locate X purchase and stated:
Our access to the software is used to support Special Operations Forces mission requirements overseas. We strictly adhere to established procedures and policies for protecting the privacy, civil liberties, constitutional, and legal rights of American citizens.”
The second data stream that the US military uses to obtain location data is through a company called X-Mode, which gathers location data directly from apps and then sells that data to buyers, including the US military. X-Mode CEO Joshua Anton has stated that the company tracks 25 million devices inside the US every month, and tracks 40 million devices elsewhere across the world, including Europe, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region.
As listed on their website, X-Mode’s customers and partners include Sierra Nevada Corporation and Systems & Technology Research – Sierra Nevada Corporation build combat aircraft for the US Air Force, and supports the development of cyber and electronic warfare with Northrop Grumman; while Systems & Technology Research works with the US Army, Navy, and Air Force offering “data analytics” to support intelligence analysts.
In regards to X-Mode, US Senator Ron Wyden stated that the company was indeed selling location data collected from phones to US military customers:
In a September call with my office, lawyers for the data broker X-Mode Social confirmed that the company is selling data collected from phones in the United States to US military customers, via defense contractors. Citing non-disclosure agreements, the company refused to identify the specific defense contractors or the specific government agencies buying the data.”
According to the report, several of the app developers who work with X-Mode apparently did not know that their users’ location data was being sent to US defense contractors.
In addition, in March of this year, it was reported that US law enforcement agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were also using Locate X to obtain location data. US government agencies such as CBP and the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) have also bought access to location data from other company called Venntel.
In an attempt to explain the situation, Mark Tallman, an assistant professor at the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, stated:
In my opinion, it is practically certain that foreign entities will try to leverage, and are almost certainly actively exploiting, similar sources of private platform user data. I think it would be naive to assume otherwise.”
This report has shocked the internet – many of the users of these popular apps are Muslim, making it clear that the US military is actively purchasing highly sensitive data of Muslim users – paired with the US’ decades-long war on predominantly Muslim-majority countries that has resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, it becomes worrying that the US military is actively obtaining personal and sensitive information from seemingly innocent apps.