Aside from networking, companies use ultrasonic signals (or beacons) to gather information about users. That could include monitoring television viewing and web browsing habits, tracking users across multiple devices, or determining a shopper’s precise location within a store.
They use this information to send alerts that are relevant to your surroundings – such as a welcome message when you enter a museum or letting you know about a sale when you pass by a particular store.
But since this technology records sound – even if temporarily – it could constitute a breach of privacy. An analysis of various Australian regulations covering listening devices and surveillance reveals a legal grey area in relation to ultrasonic beacons.
A new lawsuit against Google filed on Thursday of last week raises interesting questions about whether or not the tech giant is “stealing Android users’ cellular data allowances though unapproved, undisclosed transmissions to the web giant’s servers”.
The suit, filed in US federal district court in San Jose by 4 plaintiffs aims to be certified as a class action. It alleges that Google is using Android users’ limited cellular data allowances to transmit information about the users unrelated to the use of Google services. The case surrounds “data sent to Google’s servers that isn’t the result of deliberate interaction with a mobile device”, according to The Register.
In other words, data transfers happening in the background, when the phone isn’t in use. The suit alleges that none of the four agreements accepted to participate in the Google ecosystem say anything about cell data transfers taking place in the background.
The suit states: “Google designed and implemented its Android operating system and apps to extract and transmit large volumes of information between Plaintiffs’ cellular devices and Google using Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances.”
It continues: “Google’s misappropriation of Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances through passive transfers occurs in the background, does not result from Plaintiffs’ direct engagement with Google’s apps and properties on their devices, and happens without Plaintiffs’ consent.”
The U.S. military is buying the granular movement data of people around the world, harvested from innocuous-seeming apps, Motherboard has learned. The most popular app among a group Motherboard analyzed connected to this sort of data sale is a Muslim prayer and Quran app that has more than 98 million downloads worldwide. Others include a Muslim dating app, a popular Craigslist app, an app for following storms, and a “level” app that can be used to help, for example, install shelves in a bedroom.
Through public records, interviews with developers, and technical analysis, Motherboard uncovered two separate, parallel data streams that the U.S. military uses, or has used, to obtain location data. One relies on a company called Babel Street, which creates a product called Locate X. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance, bought access to Locate X to assist on overseas special forces operations. The other stream is through a company called X-Mode, which obtains location data directly from apps, then sells that data to contractors, and by extension, the military.
Nothing that you do on your phone is private. In this day and age, most of us have become extremely dependent on our phones, and most Americans never even realize that these extremely sophisticated little devices are gathering mountains of information on each one of us.
Your phone knows what you look like, it knows the sound of your voice, it knows where you have been, it knows where you have shopped, it knows your Internet searches and it knows what you like to do in your free time. In fact, your phone literally knows thousands of things about you, and all of that information is bought and sold every single day without you knowing.
And as you will see below, there are lots of companies out there that use information collected from our phones to create secret “surveillance scores” that are used for a whole host of alarming purposes.