BADASS intelligence program shows there's no distinction between for-profit and governmental surveillance
A newly-revealed intelligence program called BADASS once again demonstrates the connection between corporate analytics tools and government surveillance programs.
BADASS, which was revealed via documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is said to have used information collected by the AdMob and Flurry services to help sift through the massive data troves held by British and Canadian intelligence agencies.
The Intercept reports that BADASS used information collected by these advertising tools -- such as a device's unique identifier or its location -- to determine if agencies should expend the effort required to collect even more information from that person.
Among the information used by BADASS is a permanent identifier used by companies like Verizon Wireless to monitor their customers' digital activities. There is no way to prevent carriers from adding the identifiers, also called "perma-cookies," to Web traffic.
These identifiers have already been condemned for allowing advertising companies to track someone even without their consent or to install so-called "zombie cookies" which use the perma-cookies to reinstall themselves whenever they are deleted from a device.
Now it's clear these unique identifiers are also being used to inform surveillance tools -- and thanks to their permanent nature, it's not like consumers can simply start using encrypted software or be more aware of what they share online to mitigate the problem.
Services like AdMob and Flurry are intrusive enough when they collect information for software developers or advertisers. BADASS shows that the tools are even worse than imagined, if only because they make it that much easier to conduct digital surveillance.
Put another way: so long as government agencies are able to access or intercept data collected by private services, there is no distinction between for-profit surveillance and government spying programs. All the information eventually goes to the same place.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]