Anomaly Six Accused Of Feeding U.S. Gov User Location Data From Hundreds Of Apps

anomaly six location data gov
Tech companies and consumers alike are rightfully concerned about government agencies seeking backdoors into smartphone operating systems. Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have exclaimed that backdoors can help them crack smartphones that belong to criminal or child predators. On the other hand, companies like Google and Apple claim that it's a slippery slope that will result in privacy forfeiture and reduced security for everyone.

Today, we have more evidence that shows that the U.S. Government is likely getting its hooks into smartphones around the globe via a well-connected contractor. A new Wall Street Journal report alleges that Anomaly Six, a company that was formed by two U.S. Military vets, is a federal contractor that has managed to get its location data SDK embedded into over 500 mobile applications that are used by hundreds of millions of smartphone owners.  

As a federal contractor, Anomaly Six has close ties with both the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence agencies. The WSJ report goes on to add that the company's partnership with government agencies is well outside the norm. "Anomaly Six was founded by defense-contracting veterans who worked closely with government agencies for most of their careers and built a company to cater in part to national-security agencies, according to court records and interviews," the report found.

Anomaly Six even acknowledges that its operations are now drawing some very watchful eyes -- including the office of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden -- but alleges that it is simply leveraging commercially-available, detailed location data that is obtained lawfully. However, despite Anomaly Six's close ties to the government and its access to location data, it doesn't provide a privacy policy on its website, nor do the mobile apps that use its SDK disclose that a customer's data could be sold to the U.S. Government. That alone would sound alarm bells for anyone, and would likely dissuade them from pursuing the app.

Given how little government regulation there is in the app space -- most regulations, if any, are dictated by individual app stores -- there is a financial incentive for app developers to seek out deals with companies like Anomaly Six to add in another revenue stream to fund their business. Given how many consumers have been conditioned to expect free apps, these backroom deals and in-app purchases are an easy way for developers to keep the lights on, so to speak.

But when the government is involved with this private data -- especially location data -- it's become an even more dicey topic that has many privacy experts worried.

What’s interesting about this report, however, is that it comes just a few days after the U.S. Government warned military personnel, and those in the intelligence community, to greatly limit the use of location services [PDF] on their mobile devices to prevent foreign government from using such data in their own counter-intelligence operations.