After multiple FTC investigations and lawsuits, money-laundering charges and DOJ filings; Big Tech is STILL harming citizens with their automatted mass human data harvesting using ‘dating’ as the BAIT!
Are you tired of pandering shill corporate Facebook and Google media outlets trying to sell you on mindlessly naive, rainbows and unicorns, wishful thinking, BS crunchy-granola concepts that have an utter disregard for actual human nature, sociology and psychology?
MATCH.COM, OK CUPID, PLENTY OF FISH etc. are ALL THE SAME PEOPLE WHO MAKE THEIR MONEY SELLING YOUR DATA AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILES TO SPY AGENCIES AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS!
How The Silicon Valley Tech Bros Ruined Dating Forever
– Guidelines and horrors created by corporate ‘dating mill’ meat farm big tech companies
“I feel like I can’t be myself,” confesses Bree, a young woman from Plainfield, Ill.
“You don’t want to seem like you care,” says Cam, slouched on a couch in Santa Cruz, Calif.
“I hate it, I hate it,” sobs Cheyenne of Austin, Texas. “Everything, so much of who you are, is dependent on how you look.”
“It exhausts me,” admits Alex.
“Nothing good happens from Tinder,” agrees Kyle, Alex’s sometime boyfriend — even though the two New Yorkers met through the massively popular dating app.
“So much dysfunction,” says journalist and filmmaker Nancy Jo Sales of the dozens of college students and young adults she interviewed for her documentary “Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age,” premiering Sept. 10 at 10 p.m. on HBO.
After a five-year immersion in the social-media-driven sex lives of the millennial generation — and, more personally, as the mother of an 18-year-old daughter — it’s clear to Sales that many of her subjects are miserably swiping their way through the brave new dating world that Silicon Valley has created for them.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented change in how we date, how we mate and how we connect,” Sales tells The Post.
At least 40 million Americans use one or more of the dozens of online dating services and mobile apps that have cropped up in the last six years. Millennials aged 18 to 30 spend an average of 10 hours a week flicking through the portraits and profiles on sites like Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and Hinge.
The biggest, Tinder, sees up to 1.5 billion swipes a day worldwide, says company co-founder Jonathan Badeen, the man who claims credit for inventing the swipe — the right-or-left motion that drives the app as users pursue or reject potential matches. The simple mechanism perfectly suits the service’s short-attention-span, glued-to-their-phones target market.
It also launched a seismic social shift that psychologists are just beginning to grapple with.
“We evolved in the context of small groups,” says David Buss, a University of Texas evolutionary psychologist interviewed in the film.
Early humans encountered just a few dozen potential mates over a lifetime. But modern life — and especially Internet dating — provides an endless parade of choices, which “triggers the short-term mating psychology in a way that never would have been triggered ancestrally,” Buss adds.
In other words, it encourages hookups.
“Hookup culture did not start with dating apps,” Sales says. “But online dating has weaponized hookup culture and has sent it into warp speed.”
And even though 80 percent of dating-app users say they turn to them in hopes of finding a long-term partner, Sales says, the apps instead reward behaviors that undermine and, eventually, destroy relationships.
THE fault lies in their very design, which exploits our brain chemistry through a calculated program of intermittent rewards that arrive regularly but unpredictably, just like the occasional jackpots of a slot machine.
“We absolutely added these almost game-like elements, where you feel like you’re being rewarded,” Tinder’s Badeen tells Sales in the film. “You’re excited to see who the next person is, or you’re excited to see, did I get the match?”
When a pair of Tinder users swipe right on each other’s profiles, the signal of mutual interest sets off some gratifying graphics and audio effects.
“And then you unlock the ability to message them, and it feels good,” explains Vin, a college student from California. “Or you can go back and test your luck again.”
“It’s like a mini-adrenaline rush every time,” Kyle says. “It’s like a little video game.”
Badeen based the function on the theories of Harvard behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner, whose experiments with pigeons proved that even birds can be transformed into compulsive gamblers, addicted to the high of occasional machine-driven winnings, if the rewards are doled out on what he called a “variable ratio schedule.”
“Having unpredictable, yet frequent, rewards is the best way to motivate somebody,” Badeen says in the film.
“It’s called gamification, and it is designed to be addictive,” Sales adds. “It’s explicitly modeled to control behavior.”
A variable ratio schedule, Skinner maintained, is what hooks us on gambling devices. The payoffs, when they happen, bathe our brains in a feel-good hit of dopamine — and the unpredictability goads us into trying for just one more win.
“Apps that give you variable feedback, rather than predictable feedback, have this same potential to be addictive,” says NYU psychologist Adam Alter.
“They are engineered to draw you in and to keep on using it, not to help you meet the love of your life,” Sales says.
Finding a long-term partner “may be what the user wants, but it’s not the goal of these platforms. The goal is to keep you swiping, keep you coming back for more” — an urge the apps can monetize by offering premium features and added access, for a price.
Tinder is on pace to earn $800 million this year, its parent company said last month.
“The way these services are designed tips the scale toward hookups,” admits Justin McLeod, the CEO of Hinge, a dating app that bills itself as relationship-oriented.
And even the apps that talk a good relationship game trend in the same Tinder-fied direction, users say.
“All the guys, they’re not looking for s–t but hookups,” Bree insists in the film. “And like quick, that-night hookups . . . for guys, it’s like a catalog for them.”
“This tech has actually privileged the people who want hookups,” Sales says. “And statistically, it’s just true that men are more interested in hooking up than women.”
She blames the “bro culture” of Silicon Valley and the tech genius of young men — and a handful of female peers — who bonded in college and went on to build sites that suited their own social needs.
ONE of those few women, Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, appears in the film to talk about her company’s early marketing strategy.
The app was launched with Herd’s 2012 visit to Southern Methodist University in Texas. “It was first taken to the sororities — pretty much the height of the culture of traditional femininity,” Sales says.
“Then we took it to the frats,” Herd recalls. “And we told them, ‘Every Kappa, every Pi Phi, every Theta — they’re on this app and they’re waiting for you to match with them. Download it, download it, download it!’ ”
“Talk about reinforcing gender stereotypes!” Sales says. “[Herd] seemed to be very proud of her marketing strategy. But here they were, literally giving girls to guys. That’s what these apps are designed to do.”
It led almost inexorably to the “Barbie and Ken culture” that social scientists see as the norm on dating apps aimed at heterosexual users.
Both sexes “rely on gender stereotypes, leading many women to sexualize themselves and many men to present themselves in a very stereotypically masculine way,” Sales says.
Fish pics, for example. The photo of a young man hoisting a just-caught sailfish or trout is a common Tinder trope.
“Literally, it’s saying, ‘I will get food for you,’ ” Sales says. “Or they’ll post a picture of themselves at the top of a mountain — that says ‘I can climb, I am strong.’ Or torso shots at the gym.”
Women, in turn, feel pressure to project a veneer of ultra-feminine sexuality.
“We got the bombshell bra on, face full of makeup, the weave or the wig,” Bree says in the doc. “And when all that comes off, when they see the real you, then they’re not even attracted to you anymore.”
“The accepted narrative of the apps is all about liberation,” Sales says. “But in truth it’s just a lot of people reapplying gender stereotypes — and a lot of times feeling bad about it.”
The constant curation of an online persona can do a number on users’ emotional health.
“The effect of mobile dating apps is that you feel like you can be dating all the time,” says Harvard dating historian Moira Weigel. “You feel as if you should always be putting yourself out there, promoting your product.”
“I’m very aware of the pressure and the need to be manicured and beautiful and to have a uniform Instagram feed that people will want to follow,” says Cheyenne. “I don’t enjoy doing sexual stuff with people because I’m so caught up in how I look. And then I’m also caught up in how they look.”
“I don’t have the greatest self-esteem,” she admits.
Millennials like Dylan, a young New York DJ with an impressive social-media following, don’t have it any easier.
“I was his trophy girlfriend with the cool clothes and a lot of followers on Instagram . . . but I don’t think he genuinely wanted me,” she says of one former flame. “He treated me like I was an object.”
Sales calls it “the scourge of ‘likes.’ ”
“That constant pressure to post and be perfect and be sexy has now worked its way into dating,” she says. “The makeup industry has exploded, by the way, and also plastic surgery — plastic surgeons have young women coming in saying ‘I want to look good in selfies.’ ”
An August study released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons noted a sharp rise in procedures for girls under age 19 — tying that stat to the fact that the average millennial will take more than 25,000 selfies in his or her lifetime.
“Now dating is based entirely on pictures, not just on dating apps but also on Instagram, on Snapchat, multiple platforms,” Sales says.
“Heartbreak is nothing new, but it becomes so much easier with this technology.” “This technology” watches YOU even worse than you thought. What if your dating site is full of spies? A secret program at the Central Intelligence Agency relies on a form of mass surveillance activity that involved the collection of an unknown data set and included the gathering of some records belonging to Americans, according to a newly declassified letter from two Democratic senators.
Details of the CIA program have been kept from the public as well as some lawmakers, according to the April 2021 letter to the agency from Sens. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.), members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The letter was partially declassified and disclosed Thursday.
The nature of the type of collection isn’t made clear in the heavily redacted letter. It couldn’t be determined when the surveillance occurred or if the intelligence program is currently operational. It was also not clear whether another U.S. intelligence agency was performing the actual surveillance that supported the functioning of the CIA program, which isn’t unusual.
The senators’ letter urged the CIA to inform the public about the program, including what kinds of records have been collected, as well as the spy agency’s relationship with its sources of intelligence, the legal framework of the program, the amount of Americans’ records being maintained and how often searches of U.S. data are performed.
“This declassification is urgent,” the senators wrote.
“CIA recognizes and takes very seriously our obligation to respect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons in the conduct of our vital national security mission, and conducts our activities, including collection activities, in compliance with U.S. law, Executive Order 12333, and our Attorney General guidelines,” Kristi Scott, the agency’s privacy and civil liberties officer, said in a statement. “CIA is committed to transparency consistent with our obligation to protect intelligence sources and methods.”
The CIA is generally prohibited by law from engaging in domestic spying. But some U.S. intelligence programs collect broad streams of internet or telephone data in a way that can scoop up information on Americans, such as when someone is communicating with a target of surveillance who lives overseas. Intelligence agencies refer to such information gathered about Americans as incidental collection, an issue that lawmakers in both parties have long said raises privacy concerns because it can evade traditional warrant requirements.
The surveillance activity is authorized under presidential Executive Order 12333, according to the senators’ letter, which is a Reagan-era document that sets rules for some methods of U.S. intelligence gathering. It is not subject to some of the same oversight that governs surveillance activities performed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a decades-old law that created a secretive court to review surveillance requests by U.S. intelligence agencies. But in their letter, the senators say the CIA has run the program “entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection.”
Ms. Scott didn’t address the senators’ concerns.
A redacted portion of the letter appearing to refer to previous actions by lawmakers said, “history demonstrates Congress’s clear intent, expressed over many years and through multiple pieces of legislation, to limit and, in some cases, prohibit the warrantless collection of Americans’ records, as well as the public’s intense interest in and support for these legislative efforts,” the letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns said. “And yet, throughout this period, the CIA has secretly conducted its own bulk program.”
Disclosures in 2013 by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency had been secretly operating a program that collected bulk metadata from phone carriers about U.S. phone calls and text messages. The disclosures ignited an international uproar over the scope of America’s electronic-spying capabilities. That program was narrowed by a law passed by Congress in 2015 but has been beset by technical challenges since then and is believed by lawmakers to currently not be operational following the law’s lapse in March of 2020.
Soon after, reporting by The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations disclosed that the CIA was obtaining bulk data from companies such as Western Union Co. on international money transfers that included millions of Americans’ financial and personal data. The program was meant to fill what U.S. officials saw as an important gap in their ability to track terrorist financing world-wide, the Journal reported in 2014.
The letter from the two senators concerns a separate CIA program, according to a report also released Thursday by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, or PCLOB, a government panel that reviews classified intelligence programs. The board’s report refers to the same surveillance activity referenced by the senators as “another classified program” apart from the CIA’s financial data surveillance, which the privacy board also released findings on Thursday.
The privacy board said in its report it researched the CIA’s surveillance program between August 2015 and December 2016. The five-member board’s operations and its ability to release material to the public has been hampered for years by struggles to maintain a quorum.
Senators weren’t aware of the full details of how the CIA program operated before the board completed a review of it in March of 2021, according to the letter by Messrs. Wyden and Heinrich.
“Until the PCLOB report was delivered last month, the nature and extent of the CIA’s collection was withheld even from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” the senators’ letter said.
On top of that: Zoom users on Apple computers got a shock when they realized their microphones were still recording them after installing macOS Monterey in October 2021. At the end of December, Zoom released an update — Zoom version 5.9.1 (3506) — to fix the bug, but users are still seeing the same thing happen.
- Apple’s devices have visual signals when apps use the device’s microphone or camera — an orange dot in the menu bar for the mic, a green dot for the camera — which users noticed that even when they weren’t on a call, these dots would still appear.
- After Zoom’s December update, one user said, “I’ve just noticed the orange dot again, and when I quit Zoom, Timing.app told me that I’d apparently been on a 2 hour Zoom call.”
IN FACT – EVERY online camera, on dating sites, and just plain old Zoom, WEBEX, all of the Cisco products, etc. DO record you when you are not aware, and open your computer, or phone, to every hacker on Earth. Only dumb-bells use internet devices to relay any personal thoughts!
In the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, two obscure American startups met to discuss a potential surveillance partnership that would merge the ability to track the movements of billions of people via their phones with a constant stream of data purchased directly from Twitter. According to Brendon Clark of Anomaly Six — or “A6” — the combination of its cellphone location-tracking technology with the social media surveillance provided by Zignal Labs would permit the U.S. government to effortlessly spy on Russian forces as they amassed along the Ukrainian border, or similarly track Chinese nuclear submarines. To prove that the technology worked, Clark pointed A6’s powers inward, spying on the National Security Agency and CIA, using their own cellphones against them.
Virginia-based Anomaly Six was founded in 2018 by two ex-military intelligence officers and maintains a public presence that is scant to the point of mysterious, its website disclosing nothing about what the firm actually does. But there’s a good chance that A6 knows an immense amount about you. The company is one of many that purchases vast reams of location data, tracking hundreds of millions of people around the world by exploiting a poorly understood fact: Countless common smartphone apps are constantly harvesting your location and relaying it to advertisers, typically without your knowledge or informed consent, relying on disclosures buried in the legalese of the sprawling terms of service that the companies involved count on you never reading. Once your location is beamed to an advertiser, there is currently no law in the United States prohibiting the further sale and resale of that information to firms like Anomaly Six, which are free to sell it to their private sector and governmental clientele. For anyone interested in tracking the daily lives of others, the digital advertising industry is taking care of the grunt work day in and day out — all a third party need do is buy access.
Company materials obtained by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry provide new details of just how powerful Anomaly Six’s globe-spanning surveillance powers are, capable of providing any paying customer with abilities previously reserved for spy bureaus and militaries.
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The source of the materials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their livelihood, expressed grave concern about the legality of government contractors such as Anomaly Six and Zignal Labs “revealing social posts, usernames, and locations of Americans” to “Defense Department” users. The source also asserted that Zignal Labs had willfully deceived Twitter by withholding the broader military and corporate surveillance use cases of its firehose access. Twitter’s terms of service technically prohibit a third party from “conducting or providing surveillance or gathering intelligence” using its access to the platform, though the practice is common and enforcement of this ban is rare. Asked about these concerns, spokesperson Tom Korolsyshun told The Intercept “Zignal abides by privacy laws and guidelines set forth by our data partners.”
A6 claims that its GPS dragnet yields between 30 to 60 location pings per device per day and 2.5 trillion locational data points annually worldwide, adding up to 280 terabytes of location data per year and many petabytes in total, suggesting that the company surveils roughly 230 million devices on an average day. A6’s salesperson added that while many rival firms gather personal location data via a phone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections that provide general whereabouts, Anomaly 6 harvests only GPS pinpoints, potentially accurate to within several feet. In addition to location, A6 claimed that it has built a library of over 2 billion email addresses and other personal details that people share when signing up for smartphone apps that can be used to identify who the GPS ping belongs to. All of this is powered, A6’s Clark noted during the pitch, by general ignorance of the ubiquity and invasiveness of smartphone software development kits, known as SDKs: “Everything is agreed to and sent by the user even though they probably don’t read the 60 pages in the [end user license agreement].”
The Intercept was not able to corroborate Anomaly Six’s claims about its data or capabilities, which were made in the context of a sales pitch. Privacy researcher Zach Edwards told The Intercept that he believed the claims were plausible but cautioned that firms can be prone to exaggerating the quality of their data. Mobile security researcher Will Strafach agreed, noting that A6’s data sourcing boasts “sound alarming but aren’t terribly far off from ambitious claims by others.” According to Wolfie Christl, a researcher specializing in the surveillance and privacy implications of the app data industry, even if Anomaly Six’s capabilities are exaggerated or based partly on inaccurate data, a company possessing even a fraction of these spy powers would be deeply concerning from a personal privacy standpoint.
Reached for comment, Zignal’s spokesperson provided the following statement: “While Anomaly 6 has in the past demonstrated its capabilities to Zignal Labs, Zignal Labs does not have a relationship with Anomaly 6. We have never integrated Anomaly 6’s capabilities into our platform, nor have we ever delivered Anomaly 6 to any of our customers.”
When asked about the company’s presentation and its surveillance capabilities, Anomaly Six co-founder Brendan Huff responded in an email that “Anomaly Six is a veteran-owned small business that cares about American interests, natural security, and understands the law.”
Companies like A6 are fueled by the ubiquity of SDKs, which are turnkey packages of code that software-makers can slip in their apps to easily add functionality and quickly monetize their offerings with ads. According to Clark, A6 can siphon exact GPS measurements gathered through covert partnerships with “thousands” of smartphone apps, an approach he described in his presentation as a “farm-to-table approach to data acquisition.” This data isn’t just useful for people hoping to sell you things: The largely unregulated global trade in personal data is increasingly finding customers not only at marketing agencies, but also federal agencies tracking immigrants and drone targets as well as sanctions and tax evasion. According to public records first reported by Motherboard, U.S. Special Operations Command paid Anomaly Six $590,000 in September 2020 for a year of access to the firm’s “commercial telemetry feed.”
Anomaly Six software lets its customers browse all of this data in a convenient and intuitive Google Maps-style satellite view of Earth. Users need only find a location of interest and draw a box around it, and A6 fills that boundary with dots denoting smartphones that passed through that area. Clicking a dot will provide you with lines representing the device’s — and its owner’s — movements around a neighborhood, city, or indeed the entire world.
As the Russian military continued its buildup along the country’s border with Ukraine, the A6 sales rep detailed how GPS surveillance could help turn Zignal into a sort of private spy agency capable of assisting state clientele in monitoring troop movements. Imagine, Clark explained, if the crisis zone tweets Zignal rapidly surfaces through the firehose were only a starting point. Using satellite imagery tweeted by accounts conducting increasingly popular “open-source intelligence,” or OSINT, investigations, Clark showed how A6’s GPS tracking would let Zignal clients determine not simply that the military buildup was taking place, but track the phones of Russian soldiers as they mobilized to determine exactly where they’d trained, where they were stationed, and which units they belonged to. In one case, Clark showed A6 software tracing Russian troop phones backward through time, away from the border and back to a military installation outside Yurga, and suggested that they could be traced further, all the way back to their individual homes. Previous reporting by the Wall Street Journal indicates that this phone-tracking method is already used to monitor Russian military maneuvers and that American troops are just as vulnerable.
In another A6 map demonstration, Clark zoomed in closely on the town of Molkino, in southern Russia, where the Wagner Group, an infamous Russian mercenary outfit, is reportedly headquartered. The map showed dozens of dots indicating devices at the Wagner base, along with scattered lines showing their recent movements. “So you can just start watching these devices,” Clark explained. “Any time they start leaving the area, I’m looking at potential Russian predeployment activity for their nonstandard actors, their nonuniform people. So if you see them go into Libya or Democratic Republic of the Congo or things like that, that can help you better understand potential soft power actions the Russians are doing.”
To fully impress upon its audience the immense power of this software, Anomaly Six did what few in the world can claim to do: spied on American spies.
The pitch noted that this kind of mass phone surveillance could be used by Zignal to aid unspecified clients with “counter-messaging,” debunking Russian claims that such military buildups were mere training exercises and not the runup to an invasion. “When you’re looking at counter-messaging, where you guys have a huge part of the value you provide your client in the counter-messaging piece is — [Russia is] saying, ‘Oh, it’s just local, regional, um, exercises.’ Like, no. We can see from the data that they’re coming from all over Russia.”
To fully impress upon its audience the immense power of this software, Anomaly Six did what few in the world can claim to do: spied on American spies. “I like making fun of our own people,” Clark began. Pulling up a Google Maps-like satellite view, the sales rep showed the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. With virtual boundary boxes drawn around both, a technique known as geofencing, A6’s software revealed an incredible intelligence bounty: 183 dots representing phones that had visited both agencies potentially belonging to American intelligence personnel, with hundreds of lines streaking outward revealing their movements, ready to track throughout the world. “So, if I’m a foreign intel officer, that’s 183 start points for me now,” Clark noted.
The NSA and CIA both declined to comment.
“It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to see how foreign spies can use this information for espionage, blackmail, all kinds of, as they used to say, dastardly deeds.”
“There is sure as hell a serious national security threat if a data broker can track a couple hundred intelligence officials to their homes and around the world,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a vocal critic of the personal data industry, told The Intercept in an interview. “It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to see how foreign spies can use this information for espionage, blackmail, all kinds of, as they used to say, dastardly deeds.”
Back stateside, the person was tracked to their own home. A6’s software includes a function called “Regularity,” a button clients can press that automatically analyzes frequently visited locations to deduce where a target lives and works, even though the GPS pinpoints sourced by A6 omit the phone owner’s name. Privacy researchers have long shown that even “anonymized” location data is trivially easy to attach to an individual based on where they frequent most, a fact borne out by A6’s own demonstration. After hitting the “Regularity” button, Clark zoomed in on a Google Street View image of their home.
“Industry has repeatedly claimed that collecting and selling this cellphone location data won’t violate privacy because it is tied to device ID numbers instead of people’s names. This feature proves just how facile those claims are,” said Nate Wessler, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “Of course, following a person’s movements 24 hours a day, day after day, will tell you where they live, where they work, who they spend time with, and who they are. The privacy violation is immense.”
The demo continued with a surveillance exercise tagging U.S. naval movements, using a tweeted satellite photo of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Mediterranean Sea snapped by the commercial firm Maxar Technologies. Clark broke down how a single satellite snapshot could be turned into surveillance that he claimed was even more powerful than that executed from space. Using the latitude and longitude coordinates appended to the Maxar photo along with its time stamp, A6 was able to pick up a single phone signal from the ship’s position at that moment, south of Crete. “But it only takes one,” Clark noted. “So when I look back where that one device goes: Oh, it goes back to Norfolk. And actually, on the carrier in the satellite picture — what else is on the carrier? When you look, here are all the other devices.” His screen revealed a view of the carrier docked in Virginia, teeming with thousands of colorful dots representing phone location pings gathered by A6. “Well, now I can see every time that that ship is deploying. I don’t need satellites right now. I can use this.”
Though Clark conceded that the company has far less data available on Chinese phone owners, the demo concluded with a GPS ping picked up aboard an alleged Chinese nuclear submarine. Using only unclassified satellite imagery and commercial advertising data, Anomaly Six was able to track the precise movements of the world’s most sophisticated military and intelligence forces. With tools like those sold by A6 and Zignal, even an OSINT hobbyist would have global surveillance powers previously held only by nations. “People put way too much on social media,” Clark added with a laugh.
As location data has proliferated largely unchecked by government oversight in the United States, one hand washes another, creating a private sector capable of state-level surveillance powers that can also fuel the state’s own growing appetite for surveillance without the usual judicial scrutiny. Critics say the loose trade in advertising data constitutes a loophole in the Fourth Amendment, which requires the government to make its case to a judge before obtaining location coordinates from a cellular provider. But the total commodification of phone data has made it possible for the government to skip the court order and simply buy data that’s often even more accurate than what could be provided by the likes of Verizon. Civil libertarians say this leaves a dangerous gap between the protections intended by the Constitution and the law’s grasp on the modern data trade.
“The Supreme Court has made clear that cellphone location information is protected under the Fourth Amendment because of the detailed picture of a person’s life it can reveal,” explained Wessler. “Government agencies’ purchases of access to Americans’ sensitive location data raise serious questions about whether they are engaged in an illegal end run around the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. It is time for Congress to end the legal uncertainty enabling this surveillance once and for all by moving toward passage of the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act.”
Though such legislation could restrict the government’s ability to piggyback off commercial surveillance, app-makers and data brokers would remain free to surveil phone owners. Still, Wyden, a co-sponsor of that bill, told The Intercept that he believes “this legislation sends a very strong message” to the “Wild West” of ad-based surveillance but that clamping down on the location data supply chain would be “certainly a question for the future.” Wyden suggested that protecting a device’s location trail from snooping apps and advertisers might be best handled by the Federal Trade Commission. Separate legislation previously introduced by Wyden would empower the FTC to crack down on promiscuous data sharing and broaden consumers’ ability to opt out of ad tracking.
A6 is far from the only firm engaged in privatized device-tracking surveillance. Three of Anomaly Six’s key employees previously worked at competing firm Babel Street, which named all three of them in a 2018 lawsuit first reported by the Wall Street Journal. According to the legal filing, Brendan Huff and Jeffrey Heinz co-founded Anomaly Six (and lesser-known Datalus 5) months after ending their employment at Babel Street in April 2018, with the intent of replicating Babel’s cellphone location surveillance product, “Locate X,” in a partnership with major Babel competitor Semantic AI. In July 2018, Clark followed Huff and Heinz by resigning from his position as Babel’s “primary interface to … intelligence community clients” and becoming an employee of both Anomaly Six and Semantic.
Like its rival Dataminr, Zignal touts its mundane partnerships with the likes of Levi’s and the Sacramento Kings, marketing itself publicly in vague terms that carry little indication that it uses Twitter for intelligence-gathering purposes, ostensibly in clear violation of Twitter’s anti-surveillance policy. Zignal’s ties to government run deep: Zignal’s advisory board includes a former head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Charles Cleveland, as well as the CEO of the Rendon Group, John Rendon, whose bio notes that he “pioneered the use of strategic communications and real-time information management as an element of national power, serving as a consultant to the White House, U.S. National Security community, including the U.S. Department of Defense.” Further, public records state that Zignal was paid roughly $4 million to subcontract under defense staffing firm ECS Federal on Project Maven for “Publicly Available Information … Data Aggregation” and a related “Publicly Available Information enclave” in the U.S. Army’s Secure Unclassified Network.
The remarkable world-spanning capabilities of Anomaly Six are representative of the quantum leap occurring in the field of OSINT. While the term is often used to describe the internet-enabled detective work that draws on public records to, say, pinpoint the location of a war crime from a grainy video clip, “automated OSINT” systems now use software to combine enormous datasets that far outpace what a human could do on their own. Automated OSINT has also become something of a misnomer, using information that is by no means “open source” or in the public domain, like commercial GPS data that must be bought from a private broker.
While OSINT techniques are powerful, they are generally shielded from accusations of privacy violation because the “open source” nature of the underlying information means that it was already to some extent public. This is a defense that Anomaly Six, with its trove of billions of purchased data points, can’t muster. In February, the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services issued a report on automated OSINT techniques and the threat to personal privacy they may represent: “The volume, nature and range of personal data in these automated OSINT tools may lead to a more serious violation of fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy, than consulting data from publicly accessible online information sources, such as publicly accessible social media data or data retrieved using a generic search engine.” This fusion of publicly available data, privately procured personal records, and computerized analysis isn’t the future of governmental surveillance, but the present. Last year, the New York Times reported that the Defense Intelligence Agency “buys commercially available databases containing location data from smartphone apps and searches it for Americans’ past movements without a warrant,” a surveillance method now regularly practiced throughout the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS, and beyond.
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House prices may be soaring, but that hasn’t stopped Americans from going on a “near-record homebuying spree” during the pandemic. In fact, the sudden shift to hybrid work models combined with relatively low interest rates and pandemic savings have prompted more people to consider buying second and even third homes.
However, potential home buyers were not the only ones busy during the last few years. Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 crisis, criminals also ramped up their activities, including identity theft. For example, in 2020, about 49 million Americans fell victim to identity theft, costing victims a total of almost $56 billion.
While identity theft is most commonly associated with drained bank accounts, few realize that as long as criminals can access people’s personal information, including their real estate data, they can also steal their homes.
Your Real Estate Data Is (Very) Public
In the US, the real estate recording system is based on open access. That means that any information about a home purchase is public record.
Anyone can perform a property record search to find out things like who the owner of a home is, how much they paid for it, when they purchased it, its square footage, property deeds, terms and conditions of a mortgage loan (if applicable), tax liens (if applicable), and even the owner’s personal history, like if they’re divorced or facing bankruptcy.
Real estate records are easily available.
Individuals can access this data through entities like the county courthouse, city hall, and county clerk recorder’s office.
Exploiting the New Kid on the Block
At the very least, moving home will lead to predatory junk mail, targeted ads, and spam calls. This is because data brokers place people they know have bought a new home into “new movers” lists. These lists are frequently sold to furniture and appliance dealers, doctors and dentists, lawn maintenance services, and other businesses.
Experian, a data broker and credit reporting company, that has information on over a billion individuals, sells a “new movers mailing list” to local businesses so that they can get to “know prospective clients, including trade-up homebuyers, apartment renters, corporate climbers, and retirees.”
A Bigger Issue: Real Estate Scams
Identity theft. If a criminal can get their hands on your personally identifiable information, including your Social Security number, they can potentially trick a bank or a mortgage broker into thinking they are you and take out a mortgage loan in your name.
For example, in late 2021, seven individuals were sent to prison for stealing the identities of absent homeowners with no mortgages, falsifying loan documents, and opening bank accounts in their names. They then used the loan money to buy luxury cars and other expensive items.
Deed fraud. Using personal information found online, criminals can impersonate a homeowner to transfer the title of their home to themselves. While abandoned and vacation homes are the prime targets for this scam, some criminals will go after occupied homes as well. In the latter scenario, a homeowner may not realize what has happened until they go to sell the home or receive notice of eviction. In 2020 deed theft netted scammers $547 million.
Once a criminal has obtained a person’s home title, they can:
Foreclosure rescue scam. This scam starts with criminals identifying homeowners that have fallen behind on their mortgage payments through the internet or public foreclosure notices in newspapers. The criminal (or “rescuer”) then contacts the homeowner, assuring them that they can help them save their home. In the end, they usually make a profit from fees or direct mortgage payments, while the victim loses their home to foreclosure.
How to Avoid Real Estate Scams
Our recent favorites to keep you up to date in today’s digital privacy landscape.
Apple Is Working on Air Tags’ Privacy Features After Reports of Stalking
|By connecting to nearby Apple devices, Apple AirTag trackers can help people find their keys and wallets. However, they are also increasingly being used to stalk individuals without their consent and steal luxury vehicles. In response, Apple has issued a statement notifying iPhone users of upcoming software updates that will alert them of unknown AirTags and make it easier to locate them.|
|Google Plans to Stop Cross-App Tracking Android Users|
|Following in Apple’s steps, Google recently announced that it would end cross-app tracking on Android devices. Instead, the tech giant is designing a new system that it claims will promote user privacy while at the same time keeping advertisers happy. However, Google made it clear that nothing will change for at least two years, giving the advertising industry ample time to prepare.|
|LinkedIn Phishing Scams Up by 232% Since February|
|LinkedIn phishing scams have grown by a whopping 232% since February 1st, 2022. Taking advantage of “The Great Resignation,” scammers are replicating LinkedIn email messages. Although the emails look a lot like they come from the social media site (with subject lines like “You appeared in 4 searches this week.”), the webmail address is obviously fake, and clicking on the malicious link brings victims to a site that harvests their LinkedIn credentials.|
|500 e-Commerce Sites Compromised with Credit Card Skimmers|
|Hackers compromised around 500 e-commerce shops, including Segway, by installing credit card skimmers on sites running an outdated version of the e-commerce platform Magento CMS. When shoppers entered their credit card details, the information was sent to attacker-controlled servers. The frequency of these types of attacks has grown in the past five years, as has their sophistication.|
You Asked, We Answered
Here is a question one of our readers asked us last month.
Q: When logging in to a site, is it better to use an existing social media account (like Facebook or Google) or email address?
A: Logging in with an existing account may be easier, and from a security perspective, it may even be safer. However, from a privacy perspective, it is not recommended.
The reason why is that when you log in to a website with another account, you are, in most cases, permitting data sharing between the two sites. For example, when you use Facebook to log onto a site/app, it can ask Facebook for up to 40 different permissions, including access to your timeline, photos, and friends’ list.
If, however, you’re worried about giving away your email address (which, with scams and phishing attacks soaring, is totally justifiable), consider using a masked email when signing up for sites/apps you don’t entirely trust.
Q: What are dark patterns? Are they actually bad?
A: Dark patterns are practices that trick users into taking action on a website/app/email/form/etc. that they didn’t necessarily intend to/want to take.
Sometimes, dark patterns can be attributed to poorly designed UI and UX experiences rather than deliberate manipulation. Other times, these deceptive practices are intentionally built into the UI.
Examples of dark patterns include:
You can see more types of dark patterns on darkpatterns.org, a website by UX specialist Harry Brignull who came up with the term in 2010, with real-world examples (“Hall of Shame”) from Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn, Apple, and more.