Data on your device at a price: The biz of tracking online behavior

Tech

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — As we hear more about hacking by governments, private entities, and even private citizens, NewsNation is learning just how simple it is for people to track your data.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, an animated map from a company called “Tectonix” went viral. It showed spring breakers leaving Florida, returning to homes across the country and spreading the deadly virus.

The story within that story is the incredible amount of information our phones carry about us and how easy it is to access, not just by advertisers.

“All this data which is collected from our devices will be used against us at some point in the future,” said Patrick Jackson, the Chief Technology Officer at Disconnect.

Jackson is an expert in online privacy and security.

This week alone, a whistleblower complaint to the IRS alleges a prominent conservative group funneled valuable information about Republican voters to state lawmakers. 

The Washington Post also revealed this week that military-grade spyware normally used for tracking terrorists was used to hack smartphones belonging to journalists and executives.

On Wednesday, a top Catholic church official resigned after cellphone data was used to track him to gay bars and on the dating app “Grindr.”

Privacy experts can’t recall a case like it, but it’s not illegal. In fact, it’s a business.

Information’s for sale on sites like datarade.ai is starting at $4,500 a month.

“The data is hard to fool,” Jackson said. “And it’s hard to optimize your strategy for how you’re gonna hide yourself online when you have no idea the amount of data that’s being collected off of you and how that data could be used to unmask you in the future.”

There are some state laws regulating how this kind of information can be used, but right now no federal law prohibits buying this kind of data.

What that means is if you have a cell phone and your location data is turned on, you can never be truly anonymous.

NewsNation spoke with J.J. Green, a national security correspondent for WTOP Radio, about how vulnerable smartphones are to tracking.

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