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a Norwegian journalist found out how his location data ended up on a US government contractor.

Last February, The Wall Street Journal reported that different government agencies in the US used the location data of a company called Venntel to locate undocumented immigrants and the routes they used to cross the border.

That same Venntel is in charge of selling location data that it obtains from users around the world (in a very complex way) to US organizations such as the FBI, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) or the Customs and Protection Office. United States Border (CBP).

Location records more than 75,000 times

That's what he wanted to show Martin Gundersen, journalist with the Norwegian media NKR. Both through an article and a sensational thread On Twitter, Gundersen illustrates how data from users around the world ends up with US data brokers.

Gundersen states that you have 160 apps installed on your phone, and states that "he has the feeling that they are spying on him." Although perhaps "they are not listening, they are tracking where I am at all times."

"All my movements are shared: when I am buying food, having a drink or going out with friends."

This journalist decided to start an "experiment" in February (precisely, the month in which the WSJ uncovered the information that I comment at the beginning of this article). On a secondary phone, Gundersen installed a handful of apps and set about taking that device everywhere.

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It is, in this case, an Android smartphone, and some of the apps you installed are quite popular, as is the case with 'Sygic GPS Navigation & Offline Maps' (with more than 50 million downloads on the Play Store) or 'Fu *** Weather (Funny Weather)' (which has more than a million downloads on the Google app store).

Although, as we said, it is quite complex to discover and understand how companies like Venntel obtain or sell data, thanks to the GDPR from the NRK they were able to request documentation that offers some light in this opaque process.

"On August 20, I asked for a copy of all the information Venntel had about me. All Europeans have the right to do so, as a result of the GDPR, which was adopted in 2018."

A month later, this journalist received an email from Venntel, which contained information about the places he has been (more than 75,000 times) since February 15.

Venntel also made it clear that they had shared this data with their clients. Your clients (they have not wanted to specify who they are) could use this information for purposes such as federal law enforcement and national security.

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Navigation and weather apps

It was then that he began to wonder "how his location data could end up in the United States", since none of these 160 apps named Venntel in their terms of use.

Of course, from Venntel they could specify that they got the information thanks to Gravy Analytics, a data broker that is responsible for collecting large data about consumers and thus use them in order to show them advertising.

In turn, from Gravy Analytics they claimed not to know where most of their data originates, but in that request the names of two companies appeared: Predicio (French) and Complementics (American).

The Norwegian journalist discovered that this data that ended up in Venntel was collected by a Slovak company called Sygic, which we have already talked about before and which has a total of 70 apps (the most popular has hundreds of millions of users).

Fu Weather Funny Weather Apps On Google Play

Gundersen contacted the developer of 'Fu *** Weather', Lawiusz Fras, who claims not to know Venntel and supports himself by clarifying that his app is not supported by a large company.

"The fact that you cooperate with companies that use some data that the application has access to to make money from this is not confidential."

Fras acknowledged that its app could be more transparent when it comes to clarifying to its users what this "monetization" implies and, although it states that it will do something about it, it believes that these users have been duly informed.

This research once again shows that it is important to know what we install on our equipment, and that it is difficult to know what these companies (or others) are going to do with our data and how far they can go.