There exists an underworld data broker market devoted to auctioning off your information to the highest bidder. It’s an industry populated by professional creeps who buy and sell mobile data collected via invasive if legal means, often from nosy apps. A new report shows that one such company demonstrated just how creepy it could be by spying on some of America’s three letter agencies to show off its product.
The Intercept and Tech Inquiry report that a little-known Virginia data firm called Anomaly Six, or A6, displayed its surveillance capabilities by tracking mobile phones used by employees of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. The company reportedly uses highly accurate GPS data purchased from mobile apps to triangulate when and where a specific phone user is at any given time. This, along with other collected data points, allows the company to track 3 billion devices in “real time,” marketing materials viewed by the outlets suggests.
The alleged snooping on America’s spies was revealed during a demo unveiled at a meeting between A6 and another surveillance startup, Zignal Labs, which is known for sucking up reams of social media data from Twitter. The two companies were in the midst of talks regarding a potential partnership and, to impress Zignal, A6's rep, Brendon Clark, allegedly used the firm’s tech to track a mobile phone from the parking lot of the NSA to a military training base in the Middle East.
“I mean, just think of fun things like sourcing,” Clark said as he clicked on an individual from the NSA, according to the report. “If I’m a foreign intel officer, I don’t have access to things like the agency or the fort, I can find where those people live, I can find where they travel, I can see when they leave the country.”
The Intercept has not independently verified A6's capabilities, nor has Gizmodo. However, the firm’s supposed capabilities have been written about before. A previous investigation by The Wall Street Journal showed that A6 had embedded tracking software in hundreds of mobile apps as a means of collecting location data on millions of phone users. The Intercept reports that, according to the company’s marketing materials, it surveils approximately 230 million devices per day.
We reached out to A6 for comment and will update this story if they respond.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that A6 and Zignal Labs were discussing a “merger.” The companies were reportedly discussing a “partnership” that did not ultimately go through. A representative from Zignal Labs reached out to Gizmodo and clarified that while “Anomaly 6 has in the past demonstrated its capabilities to Zignal Labs, Zignal Labs does not have a relationship with Anomaly 6.” The representative further clarified: “We have never integrated Anomaly 6's capabilities into our platform, delivered Anomaly 6 to any of our customers, or discussed a merger with Anomaly 6. Zignal continues to abide by privacy laws and guidelines set forth by our data partners.”