Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in conjunction with the Associated Press broke a story wide open on a piece of software that allows police to surveil citizens like you and me with impunity. Coming off the backs of very similar technology attracting the ire of the FTC, this is not a good look to say the least.
The software in question is called “Fog Reveal.” Built by a tech company in Virginia, it allows officers to trace people without their knowledge using information garnered from very popular, widely downloaded apps.
The company itself, Fog Data Science, purchases “billions of data points,” from nearly 250 million different devices. They reconstruct these points into coherent, organized patterns, and sell that to law enforcement at a price those municipalities are more than happy to pay.
Before, it was widely understood that the federal government was keeping tabs on all of us through the NSA. However, our own local police departments find themselves desiring that level of detail for much the same reasons that the higher ups do.
Just this Tuesday, we published an article relating to a very similar set of circumstances. In that case, a Data Broker was buying information from (in all likelihood) the exact same sources that Fog Data Science is, but instead of selling it to Law Enforcement, they were selling it to whoever wanted it.
In that case, the FTC was putting their foot down with a lawsuit. Why is this case any different?
It’s very clear with a Data Broker how this situation is ripe for abuse. We can’t really be made to believe that all of those legitimate concerns go away by changing just the customer, can we?
Additionally, who’s to stop Fog Data Science from expanding their customer base? Do we even know how good their operational security is? How do we know hostile countries aren’t stealing this data and using it against American interests?
The problems abound.
It’s unlikely that the FTC is going to go gunning after every company that goes too far in data harvesting. In fact, we may not even want them spending so many resources on that one problem.
Whether or not Fog Data Science gets taken to task has yet to be seen, but Data Brokers catching heat remains an auspicious direction for US policy to be moving in. If real guidelines get put in place, they very well might catch this company in the blast, fixing the problem.
It’s important to stay optimistic, and focus on the progress we’re making in the face of all too often disheartening news.