This is the ultimate example of what’s broken in digital life: The locations of people who used apps to pray and hang their shelves wound up in U.S. military databases.
Vice’s Motherboard publication this week reported that data on people’s movements collected by seemingly innocuous apps passed through multiple hands before being bought by U.S. defense contractors and military agencies. It’s not clear what the military is doing with the information.
This isn’t an isolated case of government authorities buying commercially available databases containing the movements of millions of people. U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Internal Revenue Service have done this, too. After about a year, the I.R.S. determined that the data didn’t help find any targets of tax investigations, The Wall Street Journal reported recently.
This activity might be a legal end-around Americans’ constitutional protections, but that doesn’t make it right. It shows what happens when America’s vast and largely unregulated data-harvesting industries enable government surveillance with little oversight from courts or other outsiders.
One root of the problem is the insatiable land grab by nearly every company imaginable — whether it’s Facebook or weather, parking and dating apps — to siphon every digital morsel of information about us, mostly because they can.