The company Venntel aggregates location data from smartphone apps including games and weather apps. It then sells that data to clients like the FBI.
- Members of Congress have opened an investigation into a data analytics company that sells people's phone location data to government agencies including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
- The company, Venntel, aggregates location data from smartphone apps including games and weather forecast apps, and in turn sells that data to its clients.
- DHS used data from Venntel to track people unlawfully crossing the US-Mexico border, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year.
- Lawmakers are pressing Venntel to release more information about its clients and data sources.
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The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has opened an investigation into a data firm that sells people's smartphone location data to government agencies.
The company, Venntel, is facing scrutiny for the Democratic-led committee for its business of buying location data from various smartphone apps and selling that data to agencies including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. DHS used location data from Venntel to track down people who crossed the border into the US illegally, the Wall Street Journal reported in February.
More recently, the FBI updated its contract with Venntel in May, The Intercept reported Wednesday, although the terms of that contract have not been made public.
Now, Reps. Caroline Maloney and Mark DeSaulnier have sent a letter to Venntel demanding more information about the company's full list of clients and its data sources. The letter was also signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ron Wyden.
"We seek information about your company's provision of consumer location data to federal government agencies for law enforcement purposes without a warrant and for any other purposes, including in connection with the response to the coronavirus crisis," wrote the letter's authors. "The vast majority of Americans carry cell phones with apps capable of collecting precise location information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This location-tracking raises serious privacy and security concerns."
When people's smartphone location data is tracked, that data is tied to an anonymous identifier rather than to personally identifying information. But multiple studies have shown that it's easy to "de-anonymize" this data by connecting it with other data points — for example, seeing where a device stays overnight and connecting that with a person's home address — raising the possibility that location data could be used to keep tabs on individuals' movements.
Venntel is a subsidiary of Gravy Analytics Inc., a data firm that has touted its ability to track more than 150 million devices in the US monthly.
Lawmakers requested that Venntel provide answers to their questions by early July.
Venntel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.