The largest surveillance project in United States history is now public
Well, this is terrifying.
A shadowy corporation or authority monitoring average citizens is one of the most common tropes in science fiction. But the thought of it being a real-life threat is genuinely scary.
The New York Times reports that this actually did happen between the years 2016 and 2017.
Millions of people across the cities of Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC have had their locations logged. Whether they are traveling in and out of Grand Central Station or going to their residences in North Hollywood, they have been watched. Is it a big tech company, like Facebook or a cell phone provider? Could it be a government agency that is doing the tracking? The New York Times reports that it is neither.
The organization doing the tracking is a private, incognito company that has been tapping into American’s cell phones.
The most terrifyingly intriguing part of this story is the numbers. This is the largest surveillance project in the history of the United States with 12 million people being tracked and 50 billion location pings.
To go back to the first paragraph above; it sounds like a plot to a cyberpunk novel or flick, but this is all 100% real.
An anonymous company is tracking 12 million people through their smartphones – Here’s what you should know
There are tons and tons of apps available to download right now that do require location services to be turned on. Of course, there are the usual ones, like Instagram, but certain messaging apps need it to work. Most consumers probably don’t realize it’s turned on. In a way, whether most folks want to admit it or not, smartphones are perfect gateways for location tracking.
William Staples, founding director of the Surveillance Studies Research Center at the University of Kansas, sees this as a common occurrence in our constantly connected lives.
The seduction of these consumer products is so powerful that it blinds us to the possibility that there is another way to get the benefits of the technology without the invasion of privacy. But there is. All the companies collecting this location information act as what I have called Tiny Brothers, using a variety of data sponges to engage in everyday surveillance.
This is why this yet-to-be-named company was able to track people in NYC so easily. And it was a perfect window into the monitored lives. The company tracked people riding the subway and going to work or, in some cases, personal counseling centers. One of the more jarring examples in NYT’s findings is with professional singer Mary Millben.
Why is her case so jarring? She performed in front of three Presidents and had her movements tracked during her performance for Trump’s inauguration. She later told NYT, “What’s the business of a company benefiting off of knowing where I am? That seems a little dangerous to me.”
Why do this? What is the endgame for this company? Is it for marketers who want to continue to use this data to sell stuff? Or is this all a front for a massive anonymous hacking group?
The New York Times does not say, but it does show a very scary side to the tech world in America. Especially one that likes to think that we aren’t being watched by some Big Brother-esque entity.
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