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US Law Enforcement Uses ‘Fog Reveal’ Tool to Track Users with Data from Popular Apps: Report

US law enforcement has reportedly accessed the location of 250 million smartphones to access “hundreds of billions of records” using a tool provided by a private company that buys user information collected by data brokers from popular apps. According to the report, the company’s device tracking tool uses advertising IDs from users’ phones that allow officials to track their movements without the need for a warrant over time by focusing and analyzing patterns.

According to detailed report The Associated Press, based on documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a tool called Fog Reveal was sold in about 40 contracts to more than 20 US law enforcement agencies. The tool was created by Virginia-based Fog Data Science and is reportedly widely used by US law enforcement.

Unlike legitimate user location tracking, which requires a lengthy warrant process, Fog Reveal allows law enforcement to track smartphones using data obtained from popular apps like Starbucks or Waze, according to the report. User location data allows agencies to track people’s movements over time, creating “life patterns” based on location information.

The report says that the use of the tool was highly secret – in some cases it was not mentioned in US court records, which could prevent lawyers from defending their clients in cases where the technology was used.

Fog Reveal relies on data from popular apps like Waze and Starbucks to assign users an advertising ID. Users’ location data tied to their ID is used to target ads to them while they hit companies like Fog Data Science, according to a report that says the companies were unaware the data was being used for the tool location tracking.

While advertising identifiers do not contain a user’s name, phone number, or personal information, the report states that location data can be used over time to de-anonymize a user and analyze their movements.

U.S. courts are still weighing the use of location information, the report notes, with the most recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement would need a warrant in most cases to review user movement and location records.

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