You may never have heard of the X-Mode Social company, but their code may be in some of your phone’s apps, tracking and selling your location data. Now Google and Apple are trying to stop it. According to a Wall street journal In this article, tech companies have told developers to remove X-Mode code from their apps or risk having them removed from their respective app stores.
X-Mode works by giving developers code to put into their applications, known as an SDK, that tracks users’ location and then sends that data to X-Mode, which sells it. In return, X-Mode pays the developer a certain amount based on the number of users the application has. According to the company, its technology is found in more than 400 apps, including many apps designed for Muslim users, such as one that reminds users when to pray, and a Muslim-focused dating app.
Apple gives developers two weeks to remove the SDK, and Google gives developers one week, with the ability to request a 30-day extension. But the model of tracking user locations and selling data is nothing new – what could have gotten X-Mode banned was that, according to a report from Motherboard, he was also selling it to the US military. When you consider the fact that many of the larger applications that use X-Mode were designed for Muslim populations, it is understandable why this would be of concern.
Of course, government services that buy location data from citizens are nothing new, but most of the time they buy it from data brokers, who simply aggregate the information from various sources, not from the companies that collect it directly. For its part, X-Mode claims that it is standing out, saying it “collects data from mobile apps similar to most ad SDKs.”
To wrap this up with a PSA: X-Mode, and other similar companies, they can only get your location data when you give them permission. Often times, apps don’t make it clear that your location data is going to X-Mode (either it’s buried in an EULA or it’s not there), but all apps on iOS and Android will have to ask permission to see your location. If your level app (as in, the tool you use to make sure an image isn’t skewed) asks for permission for your location, it’s probably worth thinking about whether or not you really need it.
Of course, that won’t protect you in cases where the app has a real reason to use your location (like with a dating app), so it’s good that both Apple and Google, as well as some lawmakers, are getting started. to take a closer look at how companies sell user data.
Americans are sick and tired of their data being misused and abused by anyone with a checkbook. Apple and Google deserve credit for doing the right thing here, but there is still a lot of work to do to protect the privacy of Americans. https://t.co/AirdebtLFx
– Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) December 10, 2020