Have you ever wondered why certain level apps (for example, picture editing apps) ask for access to your location?
After all, your location doesn’t determine what brightness level your picture needs or what size it must be resized into.
Still, these sleazy apps ask your permission to grant them your location data. Why?
Well, my friend, data is the new oil. Astute investors and well-known corporations leverage users’ data to guide their strategic planning and decision making. Users’ data help them understand consumer behavior, which is crucial for targeted advertising and real-estate decision-making.
But what if this data is being sold to the US military?
Sounds scary, right?
Well, that’s what the data broker company X-Mode Social Inc. has been doing. It has reportedly supplied data to several US government contractors for national security, counterterrorism, and pandemic response. This is being believed to be the major reason why only X-Mode Social has got banned when there are tons of other data selling companies.
X-Mode works by paying app developers to embed its self-developed computer code, known as SDK, in their apps. SDK tracks users’ location at every moment and send the users’ location activity to X-mode, which then sells it for big bucks. In return for the favor from developers, X-Mode pays them a certain amount based on the number of users their apps have.
It poses a serious issue since your data be used in numerous ways against you. As Apple’s head of software engineering, Craig Federighi, said,
“Where you go says a lot about who you are like, whether you go to a particular place of worship. “There is an enormous potential for this kind of data to be misused. And the way some apps are designed, users may have no idea that they’re giving it away.”
Another serious concern that sprung up the X-mode ban is that their data collection technology is embedded in several Muslim-community specific apps, such as a dating app for Muslims called Muslim Mingle and a Muslim prayer app dubbed as Muslim Pro.
To safeguard users’ security, Apple and Google have cracked down on X-Mode. The tech giants have warned developers to remove X-Mode’s SDK from their apps or risk getting them uprooted from their respective app stores.
Google has granted developers a deadline of a week to remove X-Mode’s trackers, adding that some developers could ask for an extension of up to 30 days. On the other hand, an Apple representative has confirmed that Apple has given developers two weeks to accomplish the same task.
In response to The Wall Street Journal questions, X-Mode said that it was reconsidering its government work and that its contracts don’t permit anyone to link a device to personal information. The company also expressed that it has been unfairly singled out.
Both Apple and Google conveyed their decisions to ban X-Mode to investigators working under Sen. Ron Wyden, who has been investigating the sale of location data to government entities.
“Americans are sick of learning about apps selling their location information and other sensitive data to anyone with a checkbook, including to the government. Apple and Google deserve credit for doing the right thing and exiling X-Mode Social, the most high-profile tracking company, from their app stores. But there’s still far more work to be done to protect Americans’ privacy, including rooting out the many other data brokers that are siphoning data from Americans’ phones.”-Sen. Ron Wyden