Every Move You Make, Adware Is Watching You

How were the U.S. intelligence services able to track Vladimir Putin’s movement without a local spy, special satellites, or hacking? They simply bought advertising data for the country of Russia.   Although it did not track Putin’s phone, the data tracked his entourage’s phones.  The phones belonged to his drivers, security personnel, political aids and other support staff through advertising data.  

With the prevalence of smartphones, who needs a map anymore?  Our phones are GPS tracking devices capable of taking us anywhere in the country – just put the address into your map application and you have turn-by-turn instructions.   Your phone is constantly sending your exact location to your map app … as well as almost every other application running on your phone.   

There is a saying about free applications.  If it’s free, then you are the product.  It turns out selling your data, to include location, is a billion-dollar business called the advertising exchange.  Advertisers bid on the exchange for a block of data in a particular geographic area.   In 2020, for a few hundred thousand dollars a month, you could access the global feed of every phone on earth.  Here’s how it works.   Whether you have an iPhone or an Android phone, your device has been given an “anonymized” advertising ID. It’s a long string of numbers and letters and looks like gibberish.   The advertisers don’t know your name, but they do know your location.  That is helpful for them to serve up targeted ads for the local restaurants or stores.  Other data includes the specifications of your device, what other applications you may have loaded on your phone, and even your browsing habits.  

Even though your advertising ID is anonymized, it is relatively easy for anyone who buys the data to find out where you live, work, and shop.  They can find out who you know and how often you visit them and for how long. They know what your hobbies are whether they are running, target practice, knitting, homebrewing, hiking, or biking.   

The military uses of this technology are alarming.   One of the companies that was developing their tools for the intelligence community began with data in the U.S.  They tracked phones that were in McDill Airforce Base, FL.  This is the home of the US Special Operations Command units.  They watched the phones go to Canada, Turkey, and end up in a small town in Syria.  Without trying, they uncovered a forward operating base of the deployed Special Forces personnel in the anti-ISIS campaign.   

Some of these advertising data mining tools are being used in the United States by government agency, such as the DIA, FBI, US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.  They would use this data for finding border tunnels, tracking down unauthorized immigrants, and trying to solve domestic crimes. 

What apps can track you? Look at your privacy settings on your phone to find out.  

Apple Advertising – View Ad Targeting Information is on by default which opens a wide range of information for the advertisers to see. 

The biggest setting that provides advertisers your GPS location is “Location Services.” Without this, your map program will not work and many other apps that you may depend on, so it is not the greatest idea to turn this off altogether. However, you should review the apps that use it and decide for yourself what you want to share. Almost all my installed apps used to have access to my location – from weather and driving directions, to grocery stores, browsers, banking, and insurance. Set these as you see fit.  

Another area inside location services is called system services. Look at those options. Significant Locations tracks your every movement. Mine is off. I would also caution against the use of the “improve analytics” for any application and “product improvement” settings. They pull even more data from your phone. 

Be careful where you take your phone.  Every move you make, every step you take, Adware will be watching you.   

Original article can be found here.