Apple and Google to prevent X-Mode from collecting location data from users’ phones

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Google will ban X-Mode Social Inc. Whoever collects any location information taken from mobile devices running their own operating systems following revelations about the company’s national security actions.

The two largest mobile platforms told developers this week that they must remove the X-Mode tracker from any app on their app stores or risk losing access to any phones running Apple or Google operating systems.

Both Apple and Google revealed their decision to block X-Mode for investigators working for Senator Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), Who has conducted an investigation into selling location data to government entities.

In a statement provided by a spokesperson, Google said that developers have seven days to remove X-Mode or face a ban from the Google Play Store, adding that some developers may request an extension of up to 30 days. An Apple representative confirmed that the company gave developers notice that they have two weeks to remove X-Mode trackers.

Google said developers have seven days to remove X-Mode or face a ban from the Google Play Store.


Craig Rattle / Associated Press

Together, the two tech companies enjoy a massive market share of cell phones globally, and their measures to restrict X-Mode marked one of the first times that a site middleman was directly targeted.

X-Mode has been the subject of numerous media reports, including from The Wall Street Journal, about its defense work. The company provided data to multiple U.S. government contractors for national security, counterterrorism, and pandemic response, in accordance with its privacy policy and public spending records.

Dozens of other companies like X-Mode are getting detailed location, buying and reselling information about mobile device traffic in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry in which data is used for targeted advertising, understanding consumer behavior, real estate planning and investment decisions. Several site brokers, including X-Mode, have sought the help of federal, state, and local officials As they respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Consumers technically participate in this tracking by giving apps permission to record the location of their devices and accepting the terms of service. X-Mode collects data using a small piece of computer code called a software development kit, or SDK, which is paid to be included in other developers’ applications in exchange for the data collected. Other middlemen simply buy data directly from app developers – a tactic that Apple and Google have no less ability to monitor.

Most of X-Mode’s work is in the commercial sector, where investors and corporate customers use its data to guide planning and decision making. But it’s also a player in the growing market for government technology – a cottage industry of companies that sprung up to service the National Security Institution’s demand for data.

the magazine I mentioned last month X-Mode was collecting data from phones running its programs about nearby “Internet of Things” devices such as fitness trackers and cars. This data was provided to a company called SignalFrame that received a small grant from the military and was trying to win other national security-related contracts.

Additionally, Vice News reported last month that X-Mode drew some of its location information from apps with a predominantly Muslim user base, such as a dating app called Muslim Mingle and a prayer app called Muslim Pro, although the company also has a built-in program. In many other types of applications.

In response to questions from the magazine, X-Mode said it is re-evaluating its government work and that its contracts prevent anyone from associating a device with personal information such as name, address, or email address.

Senator Ron Wyden (D, Oregon) conducted an investigation into the sale of location data to government entities.


Michael Bruchstein / Ciba USA / Associated Press

Reston, which is based in Virginia, has also indicated that it has been unfairly discriminated against. “A ban on the X-Mode SDK will have wider implications for the ecosystem given that X-Mode collects similar mobile app data as most advertising SDKs, and Apple and Google will set a precedent that they can determine the ability of private organizations to collect apps. Mobile phone and data use, “the company said.

The data broker said several developers working with X-Mode have told the company that they are planning to ask Apple to reconsider the decision.

Investigators working with Mr. Wyden have been investigating the commercial data market following the revelation that this data is being purchased by US government surveillance and law enforcement entities. He said he was drafting legislation to prohibit this practice.

“Americans are tired of knowing which apps sell their location information and other sensitive data to anyone with a checkbook, including the government,” said Mr. Wyden. Apple and Google deserve credit for doing the right thing and banishing X-Mode Social, the most well-known tracking company, from their app stores. But there is still a lot of work to be done to protect Americans ‘privacy, including rooting out many other data intermediaries who pull data from Americans’ phones.

A review by Apple found that 100 apps submitted by 30 developers contained the X-Mode software, according to a brief provided to Mr. Wyden’s office and described for the magazine. Apple indicated potential violations of its rules regarding data use and sharing and gave developers two weeks to remove X-Mode’s SDK. Apple told developers that X-Mode appears to “surreptitiously build user profiles based on aggregate user data,” in violation of their Terms of Service.

The campaign on X-Mode comes as Apple prepares to better show users of its iPhone devices how their data is being tracked. Next year, Apple said it will release software updates that will prevent advertisers from being able to collect a person’s ad ID without the user’s permission. Some companies are like

The social networking site Facebook a company ,

They said the change would harm their ability to target ads tailored to people who use Apple devices.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s chief of software engineering, this week reiterated Apple’s position that users should control their data, especially when it comes to tracking their locations. Among the changes that have been made to reduce this tracking, he noted that a recent change in the program allows users to enable a feature that allows the approximate location instead of the exact location.

“Where you go says a lot about who you are. Like whether or not you go to a specific place of worship,” said Federighi on Tuesday during the European Data Protection and Privacy Conference. There is a huge potential for misuse of this type of data. And the way some apps are designed, may not Users have no idea to give it up. “

The US government uses marketing data generated by the app based on the movements of millions of cell phones across the country for some form of law enforcement. We explain how this data is collected and sold. Photo: Justin Lane / EPA / Shutterstock

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Write to Byron Tau at [email protected]

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