Company tracks billions of smartphones live – and spied on the NSA and CIA to prove it

“Anomaly Six”
A mysterious company wants to be able to track three billion smartphones live – and spied on the NSA and CIA to prove it

The company does not even need access to satellites for continuous monitoring

© Laurence Dutton / Getty Images

Many people have long since become accustomed to the fact that many companies are spying on us. However, the company Anomaly Six shows that the scale is much larger than many would suspect. And it can become a danger even for superpowers.

It’s a chilling proposition that the company made to Anomaly Six in the months leading up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to a presentation, one is able to monitor and evaluate the exact position of three billion devices around the globe in real time. To demonstrate the power of this data, they took a drastic step – showing how US intelligence agents and warships could be unmasked and tracked around the world.

This emerges from a report by The Intercept magazine, which specializes in investigative journalism. The magazine therefore has a video recording of a presentation with which Anomaly Six submitted an offer of cooperation to the data analysis service Zignal. The declared goal: to build up an even stronger surveillance apparatus for the customers together.

Secret services should sit up and take notice

The capabilities of the company set up by two former US military personnel alone are alarmingly far-reaching. Anomaly Six collects location data from billions of devices, almost a fifth of humanity wants to be able to locate the company at any time. And because you use GPS data, the location is very accurate. Together with other data, this makes it possible to uncover well-kept secrets of the superpowers. This is shown in several parts of the presentation.

By logging who visited both NSA and CIA headquarters, about 183 devices were identified that were fairly clearly owned by intelligence officials. You could then follow them for years and find out every detail, such as their place of residence and the place where they were commissioned. “If I worked for a foreign intelligence agency, I might not have access to their headquarters. But I could find out where these people live, where they go, when they leave the country,” said the presenting contributor to Anomaly Six.

But the international armed forces should also be amazed. Because many of the soldiers carry their private smartphones with them, troop movements can also be registered. The company claims to have documented the deployment on the Ukrainian border using data from Russian soldiers. But another example is particularly creepy: By comparing the position of a single US warship on a satellite image with the available data, one could clearly identify a single smartphone on the ship. “But one is enough,” said the presenter. Then you could track the ship – and identified tons of equipment from other marines. “Now we can see exactly when the ship departs for deployment. I don’t even need access to a satellite for that.”

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Curious apps

This type of surveillance is possible because smartphones monitor users to a much greater extent than most people realize. Because apps rely on special components from third-party companies, so-called SDKs, to save work during development, they get access to the data of entire app networks. Anomaly Six – like countless other companies – ultimately only buys this data and evaluates it. According to “The Intercept”, the employee in the video is happy to say that the users would simply agree to the surveillance. “They allow all of this, even though they probably haven’t read the 60-page terms of use.” Selling and buying this data is legal in the US when done with consent.

The data is shockingly extensive. 30 to 60 location data would come in per device every day. Because, unlike many of its competitors, estimates are not used based on mobile phone data, but only high-precision GPS data, they are also very accurate. 2.5 trillion measured values ​​would come together in this way every year. Because account data from the apps, such as the e-mail address used for registration, is also transferred, the devices and their data can also be assigned to individual people.

For the secret services, however, the shock is more likely to lie in the fact that this type of investigation can also be used against them. They have long been doing the underlying type of data collection themselves: In the USA, too, there are limits to the surveillance of its own citizens, and search warrants are often required. According to media reports, the investigating authorities therefore began years ago to obtain the data from places where they are allowed to do so without a court order – and buy them on a large scale from the app data collectors.

Sources:The Intercept, New York Times

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