Surveillance Dragnet: How Shadowy Companies Can Track Your Every Move

Smartphone apps make it easy for companies and government agencies to spy on billions of devices.

Photo Illustration: The Intercept/Getty Images

Smartphone apps constantly harvest your location data. That information is shared with advertisers, typically without your knowledge or informed consent. There are no laws in the U.S. prohibiting the sale or resale of that private data. And companies like phone-tracking firm Anomaly Six exploit that. So do government agencies.

This week on Intercepted, Intercept reporter Sam Biddle and Tech Inquiry’s Jack Poulson discuss their reporting on Anomaly Six and the company’s pitch to a social media monitoring company, Zignal Labs. Anomaly Six proposed that their joint efforts would permit the U.S. government to effortlessly spy on its adversaries. To show off its vast surveillance capabilities, Anomaly Six demo’d its software by spying on the CIA and NSA. Biddle and Poulson talk about the Wild West of personal data brokers, how the advertising industry feeds the surveillance industry, and just why the apps on your phone made it easy for Anomaly Six to build a tool it claims can spy on billions of devices.

[Serious music.]

Sam Biddle: In 2021, a secretive technology startup named Anomaly Six pitched an idea to another little-known company, Zignal Labs.

The proposal was that, by joining forces, Zignal’s corporate and governmental clients could expand their social media monitoring to not only surveil Twitter activity, but learn where in the world these tweets came from, and potentially a great deal about the lives of the people who wrote them.

Anomaly Six — also called A6 — claims it can track billions of devices in near real time. And Zignal Labs leverages its access to Twitter data streams to sift through hundreds of millions of Tweets per day, without restriction. The two combined would be an even more powerful surveillance tool.

During the presentation, A6 tracked the movements of the Russian army along the Ukrainian border, Chinese submarine positions, and even the American intelligence community. This was a bold idea: To demonstrate just how powerful its phone tracking capabilities are, A6 showed Zignal that they could spy on American spies.

On a satellite map of the U.S., A6 sales rep Brendon Clark drew digital boundaries around CIA and NSA headquarters. This is a technique known as geofencing. Within these boundaries, 183 dots appeared, representing GPS pings from phones that had visited both locations. 

Lines radiated from each dot, showing where the phones had traveled. As Clark noted: “So, if I’m a foreign intel officer, that’s 183 start points for me now.” 

Zeroing in on one dot, A6 showed how its software could reveal this individual’s movements as they traveled throughout the U.S. using the location data pulled from apps on their phone. In their demo, the person they were tracking traveled to a U.S. army base in Fort Bliss, Texas, an airfield in Jordan, and their likely home in suburban Maryland, close to NSA headquarters. The demo concluded with a Google Street View of the person’s house. 

[Intercepted theme music.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Intercepted theme music continues.]

SB: I’m Sam Biddle, a technology reporter with The Intercept. I cover stories about surveillance, privacy, and the ways consumer technologies create unexpected risks.

I recently published a story with Jack Poulson, the executive director of a non-profit called Tech Inquiry that brings transparency to the deep relationships between American technology companies and the military. We wrote about Anomaly Six’s pitch to Zignal Labs.

Anomaly Six has previously contracted with U.S. Special Operations Command, but likely has other surveillance customers within the government.

Last year, Jack and Tech Inquiry published a report based on a wide variety of public government contracts between the Pentagon and U.S. firms.

Jack Poulson: That actually led me into looking at Zignal Labs. And, I don’t want to say much about it, but a source reached out, and it was very connected to some of the things I had dug into in the past, and it made sense to dig into [it] with a lot of detail.

SB: It turned out Zignal and Anomaly Six had discussed merging their surveillance powers, combining the ability to monitor social media usage around the world, with the ability to track smartphones around the world. Our story detailed Anomaly Six’s pitch for this concept of supercharged private sector intelligence-gathering. But even without Zignal, the capabilities Anomaly Six offers its customers would surprise most people, who probably think only governments, not startups, are capable of this kind of global surveillance.

Jack and I recently talked about our reporting, discussing the Wild West of personal data brokers, how the advertising industry feeds the surveillance industry, and just why the apps on your phone made it easy for A6 to build a tool they claim can spy on billions of devices. 

JP: I think the really helpful background is talking about who Babel Street is because understanding who Anomaly Six is I think is best contextualized as them being a sort of rogue offshoot of sorts [laughs], not to excuse Babel Street. 

But if you read through the 2018 court filings from Babel Street suing three of its former employees who formed Anomaly Six it’s very clear, one, in the court filings that Anomaly Six was meant to be a copy of a product from Babel Street, at least according to the court filings. But then also, it’s just a very colorful lawsuit. For example, one of the Anomaly Six founders is quoted calling his former employer “asshats” and he wants to “burn them down.” And so I think that Babel Street is in a sense, like the mothership that Anomaly Six spawned from and it’s a bit more cowboy,

SB: It is important to keep in mind that this company didn’t just appear out of the ether. The background of the founders is really relevant, because they’re veterans of the American military. They have counterintelligence backgrounds and are part of that world. But then they’re also veterans of the location-tracking business. I mean, they came up in that business and had a great deal of experience in it before even starting Anomaly Six. So they have a foot in each world of both governmental intelligence gathering and governmental surveillance. And this huge, relatively recent boom, in private-sector spy work. So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you see ex-military guys with years of experience in this Wild West industry of data brokerages starting this company.

[Low, eerie thrumming sound.]

We didn’t quite draw this analogy out in the article, but I think it’s apt, which is that the conversation was between Anomaly Six, which primarily does location tracking and Zignal Labs, which primarily does social media monitoring. And each of those is somewhat of a lesser-known version of other companies that do the same thing.

But I think it’s informative to hear explicitly from a very high-level, former employee of Babel Street, namely Brendon Clark, who the recording is of at Anomaly Six, how it is that you would combine social media monitoring with location tracking software. 

So one of the examples that was given was a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Eisenhower, in a particular region in the ocean at a particular time. And so what Anomaly Six could do was use that tweet to geofence. And they, in fact, found a device, at least according to them, and then traced it back to a birth in Norfolk, identified a lot of other devices that were at that same docked aircraft carrier, and then argued, well, we can now like predict troop movements now that we’ve identified the devices, because once all of those devices start to converge back to the port, you probably know that there’s a deployment and you might, in fact, know the cadence of the deployments. And so then you could detect if it’s an abnormal deployment. 

And so the way this kind of tips and cues in the other direction, from location tracking back to social media, is that you might identify those devices with their email addresses, or perhaps social media accounts, which is something that was described in the talk as well, which is a map between devices and IPs and emails which, if you have an email, you can get to social media. And so what Clark argued was: Well, now I can also look if they posted on social media, like hey, I’m going overseas — or whatever. And so the idea is that social media informs where you geofence and then once you do your pattern-of-life analysis, maybe you go back to social media and monitor particular accounts. 

So that’s not the most sophisticated form of data fusion. But it shows you how one kind of tips you off as to the other to dig into further, and how the combination is much more powerful than one in isolation.

SB: Something very alarming about this story to many people, myself included, is it is incredible what can be done with enormous pools of data that we don’t realize we’ve left in our weeks. I mean, Brendon Clark at one point, jokes, he says after doing these demonstrations where they’re tracking Chinese submarines and Russian troops and American spies, he laughs and says people put way too much on social media. And his entire company, Anomaly Six is also fueled largely by consumer ignorance. And when I say ignorance, I don’t mean that in a pejorative way against ordinary people whose phones are being tracked. The fact that this stuff is possible is generally obscured from them, and it’s not their fault at all that they don’t know what’s being done. But people don’t realize that the apps they install on their phone, in many cases, are sharing their locations with advertisers all the time. And those advertisers can then sell the data to whomever they want. And it can eventually wind up at Anomaly Six. 

Similarly, people when they put stuff on social media are often not thinking: OK, well, there’s a chance that this will wind up on the screen of someone at the Pentagon or Foreign Intelligence Service or with the police. And this is always a defense of companies that do social media surveillance work, which is that, oh, this stuff is already public; if people didn’t want us reading it and sharing it with the police, or what have you, they wouldn’t have put it online. But you know, of course, people don’t know what the likelihood is that their tweets will be flagged and sent to the police or analyzed by, you know, a military intelligence officer, or that that stuff is even possible. And it’s just not widely known. And I can’t stress enough how much it’s not anyone’s fault but the companies behind these services. I mean Twitter could, if they wanted to, tomorrow, give everyone a notification, or send everyone an email saying: Just so you know, there are companies that we sell access to who use the Twitter firehose to conduct monitoring for the police and militaries. And, just so you know, if you ever tweet something publicly, that’s a possibility. Just like Apple or Google don’t say, when you’re firing up the App Store to download something: Hey, a lot of the apps on here could be relaying your data to third parties and just be careful when you enable location tracking for these apps. 

There is such a bare minimum done to educate people about the consequences of these technologies. And then companies like Anomaly Six or Zignal swoop in and make, I think, a great deal of money as a function of that ignorance. And so I mean, I found that pretty startling. I don’t know about you. Well — I think nothing startles Jack, because you are such an expert in this field, it’s probably hard to surprise you. But it is, I think, nonetheless pretty startling for both of us.

JP: So, you know, first of all, thanks for the kind words, I think obsessive is maybe a more accurate way to phrase it. [Laughs.]

SB: [Laughs.]

JP: But expert is another terminology. I think it’s a note that Twitter actually did not put in — I haven’t checked in the last couple of days, but probably still doesn’t — list Zignal Labs as a partner, whereas if you go to Zignal Labs as website, you see that they’re very clear that they have Firehose access. So full access in real time to all public Twitter data, as opposed to if you haven’t paid for this access, even if you just want to download all the followers of a particular account that can take a reasonable amount of time, whereas if you have Firehose access, you could actually have, in your database in an indexed manner, all public tweets, and then run sophisticated queries on it instantaneously.

[Meditative music.]

SB: Think this is really a story about what advertising has created. And I think Anomaly Six is a company that owes almost everything to the lack of scruples of the digital advertising industry. It has become very, very common if you are an app maker and you want to maximize the amount of money you’re bringing in, you might make your app available for free in the App Store. You still want to make money, but you’re not selling your software. So you stick ads into it. And there are countless companies who will let you put something called an SDK — a software development kit — into your app, which provides very convenient features and lets you pretty much effortlessly add them into your app, including ads, which would let you monetize your app through display ads. 

Now, these advertisers want to get the most money they can for these ads, so they of course, make them location aware, so that they can tell their customers: Well look, pay us more for these ads, because we’ll share them to people who are in an area you want to advertise to. Location-based advertising has been used to juice ad money for a very long time. 

But this means that now there are a ton of apps that people use every day, and I say a ton, rather than a specific number, because this specific number is not known. Many, many apps that many, many millions, and millions, and millions of people around the world are using every day, have these SDKs in them. And so what that means is when you download an app, you’re not just transacting or just starting a data relationship with the person who made that app, right? Like if I download Google Chrome, it’s a given that I’m going to be sharing information of some kind with Google, right? As I’m browsing the internet, I think it would be fair to assume that Google will have some awareness of what I’m doing — at least just that I’m using the app. But if I download a smartphone app that’s filled with trackers and is embedded with an SDK, I don’t know who I have a relationship with, exactly. Because it now becomes sort of promiscuous, it’s me, and the app maker, and the advertisers, and the data brokers those advertisers work with. And it can be anyone: There’s not really a limit on who can pull data from that app.

JP: Yeah. First, as a disclosure, about four years ago I worked at Google. And I think it’s important to note that Google is probably the biggest collector of location tracking data. And part of the reason I bring that up is about a month, maybe two months ago, I forget how long ago, I covertly recorded a talk given by a company named PenLink, which is one of the most prominent companies that helps police, write search warrants to, for example, tech companies for things like social media access, location-tracking access, and how to interpret those results, which are often in kind of complex forms. 

What was very clear was that the location tracking data from Google — and Facebook,  to a somewhat lesser degree — was very important to them, as was your search history, as was Apple iCloud backups. So I don’t want to underplay the degree to which police are accessing your location as part of the collection from big tech, but I think largely, at least from what we know publicly, the relationships with intelligence agencies are actually through not big tech, it’s through this ad tech market, which you could argue big tech helps create and sustain. But they’re not actually the party doing the sale, or the one aggregating the location tracking data. 

The other thing I think I would get in trouble if I didn’t say is at least naming some of the excellent work that’s been done by reporters who really closely track the location data beat. So for example, Byron Tau at The Wall Street Journal; Joseph Cox at Motherboard reported on a Muslim prayer app named Muslim Pro having been the source of some of the data to X-Mode Social, which has been a big Department of Defense contractor. And then Alfred Ng and Jon Keegan at The Markup have done a lot of great work going through enormous detail of the various apps that have been a major source of data for location tracking. Just in terms of citations, I want people to know where else they can look to besides just our work.

SB: Yeah, I mean, I think it sort of says a lot that you can have read all of the really terrific reporting that Jack just mentioned, and still not have a very complete picture of how this all works, which is not a dig at all at the reporting, which is fantastic. But this ecosystem of data collection, and data brokers, and data warehouses, etc, is just so vast and so complex that it is just hard for anyone to wrap their head around fully and just not even the most knowledgeable expert or most seasoned reporter on this topic knows the whole picture, because there’s simply too many companies involved. I mean, it is like charting the stars at a certain point, you just can’t keep it all in your head at the same time, and I think that, to Jack’s point, this really is an asset for the companies that want to do this kind of surveillance because I mean, look, if you really want to, you can delete Chrome, stop using Google, stop using Gmail, you can opt out of Google apps, if you think that Google is a privacy threat to yourself. 

But I bet you a lot of people would say: OK, well, I don’t use Google, but I am going to download Candy Crush because I think it’s fun, and not be aware of the advertising-based tracking embedded into that game or any number of countless other games, because you just do not realize how deeply the tentacles of surveillance-based advertising are embedded into everything.

JP: I think at a higher level, like it’s been said, this whole ecosystem is very complicated. We might think of there being sort of the front door through warrants, which might just go straight to, you know, demand your location from Google. But really, what we reported on in this story is how you get around search warrants and how you get around the Carpenter Supreme Court decision. 

More to that point, I would argue maybe the central news component of our reporting, was that Anomaly Six just openly demonstrated that they had a button that they called “Regularity,” which would take someone’s location tracking data — which almost always is referred to as anonymous — and directly infer their home address. And then after they hit this button to infer the home address of an ostensible U.S. intelligence agent, they then made it very clear how easy it was to look at public records to figure out their name.

SB: It’s interesting the extent to which I think individual location data is being treated in the same way that historically the law has looked at an advertiser buying your phone number or your email address if they wanted to send you spam messages or junk mail. I mean, people have been buying and selling other people’s personal information so they can send them ads for decades, right?I mean, if you have ever gotten paper junk mail in your mailbox, it’s because someone bought and sold your address. And the law currently treats your location in the exact same way. It’s just a commodity that can be freely bought and sold, and that there’s a legitimate advertising interest, there’s a legitimate commercial interest in being able to trade this stuff around. And I would argue that, just on a personal level, that we probably should have never had such fast and loose rules with even people’s addresses and phone numbers. But you can see how location fits perfectly into that tradition of just like: Well, it’s for sale and who cares? We’re just going to use it to try to sell you a new computer or something; it’s just this is just how the economy works. 

But what was being done at the same time was creating a perfect loophole through the Fourth Amendment. Jack referenced the Carpenter Supreme Court decision which made, I think, a very strong and forceful argument about how a judge’s sign off was required if the police wanted to obtain your phone location through the phone company. If the cops want to know where I am, and want to get that information from my cell phone provider, they can’t just buy it: they have to get a court order, a judge has to sign off on it, they have to make an argument explaining why it’s necessary. But now they can just buy that information. And so why would they ever go through the trouble of the court order and dealing with a judge when they could just buy — and not even just buy the same thing, the GPS data we’re talking about is more accurate, I think, in many cases, than what they could get from the phone company, which is using cell tower pings, which are a close estimate of your location, but nowhere near as accurate as GPS. So in the course of creating as robust an advertising economy as we could, we’ve created this relatively cheap, extremely accurate, really easy way to dispense with the whole idea of judicial oversight when it comes to searches. That’s the way the law works right now. If you’re asking Verizon for someone’s location, go talk to a judge. If you’re asking Anomaly Six, just write a check.

[Foreboding music.]

JP: So as far back as 2019, actually January 2019, Joseph Cox showed that for $300, he could pay a bounty hunter and actually locate his own cell phone. So unfortunately, that level of access is not particularly new. If I’m not mistaken, that data originated from cell phone carriers, who were then reselling to data brokers. So it’s a bit different than the ad tech-sourced type of data. But if you look at Anomaly Six, they absolutely work with commercial clients. So once you’re working with commercial clients, what’s the difference between — [laughs] what is the scope of commercial? To me, that just means somebody with money.

SB: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we know precious little about how Anomaly Six decides who will and won’t work with. I mean, if they’re anything like most companies, they’ll work with whoever is willing to pay them for what they’re charging. There’s no reason to think they have some rigorous application process. I mean, we asked them about this and they didn’t answer. 

A big risk when it comes to outsourcing this kind of surveillance work to a private firm is they are exempt from public records laws. I can’t send a Freedom of Information Act request to Anomaly Six. This is private sector surveillance done on behalf of the government. But if the government farms it out, it gives them some plausible deniability as to what’s going on. But it also just impedes the public’s ability to understand what’s being done in their name and with their money, because now it’s obscured behind trade secrecy law and all the other things that make companies generally not forthright with the truth, especially technology companies.

JP: You can imagine that location data kind of becomes a goldmine. And so if you buy, in some limited form, at least contractually, the data, you understand that if you just copy that data you have access to then maybe you can resell it to someone else. And so that’s indeed what one of the lawsuits was over in the case of X-Mode Social.

And so a lot of these companies, these are more obscure companies than obscure companies you’ve never heard of. Very fly by night, some of them don’t even exist anymore legally, and the lawsuits seem to still be going on. So it’s difficult to underscore just how complicated it is to track some of these data flows. And I say that as someone who spends almost all day, every day, tracking relationships between corporations, and it’s because, again, some of these companies don’t even really have websites.

SB: Anomaly Six doesn’t have a website. 

JP: Right. 

SB: I mean, Anomaly Six’s website is literally just a picture of a cloud. And it says Anomaly Six. I mean, it’s like a joke website. [Laughs.] 

JP: [Laughs.] 

SB: I mean that, to me, was almost like just sort of like a screw-you from Anomaly six. It’s like: Oh, yeah, we’ve got a public presence. It’s a photograph of a cloud, and our email address. And that’s it. So: Good luck figuring out what it is we actually do with your data!

I mean, look, even Google pretends to have a commitment to privacy and at least waves its hands and says nice-sounding things about how it uses your data and makes, at least, gestures towards transparency. You can question to what extent any of it is meaningful or in good faith or whatever. But companies like Anomaly Six, they may as well not even exist, as far as the public is concerned. 

I mean, if Google were to crack down on a company like Anomaly Six, it is interesting that they are essentially competitors in a way. I mean, they obtain their data in different ways. But Google and Anomaly Six are both very much in the location business. And they both work with the government. And they both help power law enforcement surveillance capabilities. So yeah, I would not want to suggest somehow that Google is doing the location tracking business in a responsible way. And Anomaly Six is not. I think that they are just sort of two different approaches.

JP: Absolutely. And you could kind of think of big tech as: You get them through warrants. And if you’re going to go through the process of a warrant, you probably just go straight to them. Get it from Google, get it from Facebook, get an iCloud backup, etc. Whereas if you want to do something maybe where you can’t do a search warrant — maybe it’s somebody in Ukraine, or Russia, or China — then you might do it through a mechanism where there is no search warrant required. And I think that’s the realm we were primarily talking about. But I think of these as dual tracks of the way location-tracking data makes its way into the hands of either police or militaries, etc.

SB: And I think that’s what’s part of what’s so frightening about this to me is that not just Anomaly Six, but any company that sells location data, if you’re a cop, and you either don’t want to or can’t make a persuasive argument about why a judge should sign off on that, now you don’t need to. I mean, this seems like it provides an avenue for police to get location data — very detailed location data — about someone where they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to persuade a judge that they need it, or that the investigation calls for it, or that this is even the right place to be geofencing. I mean, you don’t have to answer any questions. You can just draw the box yourself, and suddenly it fills up with people. 

And look, there are, of course plenty of problems with and criticisms to be made of the way judges might sign off on a search warrant. I mean, that is by no means a perfect process, that is a perfect protection of one’s civil liberties and personal privacy and so forth. But at least there’s like a speed bump there, you know? You have to at least go through the motions of making your case as to why this invasive practice is warranted — no pun intended. But you don’t have to convince anyone if you’re using Anomaly Six, or if you have other commercially obtained location data, you just use it. It’s just like searching Google. You don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need anyone’s sign off. 

So it is concerning to me that this provides a very wide, comfortable avenue for a lot of just shoddy police work —  and that’s just thinking about law enforcement, not even the military or intelligence side of things. But yeah, I mean this technology just provides an easy out for lazy, unscrupulous cops who want this data but don’t feel like dancing around for it.

JP: And if it’s in commercial hands, private investigation firms, including those that might be run out of major corporations. Now I’m not asserting anything with this statement. But it’s pretty easy to transplant the same methodology that Anomaly Six demonstrated to de-anonymize an ostensible U.S. Intelligence Agent by looking at people whose devices had been to two separate locations and then tracking them to their house and say: OK, well what if instead of it being an intelligence agent, I don’t know, it’s somebody who works at a major tech company that wants to monitor labor organizing. And instead of picking the CIA and the NSA, you pick your company’s warehouses and union headquarters or union offices. And now you’ve got a list of devices that have been to both of those locations, you can track them, you can figure out where they live, and then de-anonymize them, start monitoring their social media. And now just like you can predict troop movements when people converge to know when a ship’s going to deploy, you could potentially start to predict protests or actions of the union, if union organizers happen to be converging upon one of the offices. I think it’s pretty obvious how this translates. And if everything is in commercial hands, why on earth would it not be being used for these purposes?

SB: I mean, I think that the threat this poses to ordinary people, ordinary workers, people who are not spies, or who don’t have reason to visit CIA headquarters, I think the risk is larger there — whether at present or in the near future, for the exact reasons that Jack just just laid out. There’s already such a huge power disparity between employer and employee, even before you put your every waking movement and where you sleep at night into the equation. And now it’s just another thing that’s up for sale.

[Low, foreboding music.]

SB: There’s a crisis not just in the U.S., but around the world of people not being educated and informed about how their data is going to be used in the course of owning and using pretty basic consumer tech products these days. But there’s also just a crisis of how complex society has allowed this ecosystem to become, to the point where it is just really difficult to explain to someone and really, really difficult for that person, even if they do understand the problem, to avoid it. 

I mean, after this article was published, I had people tweeting me asking: Well, how can I avoid being swept up in something like what Anomaly Six is doing here? And I do not know. I mean, short of not using a smartphone any longer, I don’t know what you could do practically. I mean, you can limit the number of apps you download, period. But I think virtually nothing can be done on the individual level, short of basically opting out of the entirety of modern society, [laughs] which is not exactly feasible. I mean, I don’t think it’s fair to expect an ordinary person in 2020, to just forgo having a phone and all the societal and economic advantages and benefits that come with that. I mean, I think that is, at this point in the game, asking too much.

So no, you could have a very, very locked down phone with nothing installed on it. I mean, that would probably keep your data from winding up in the hands of some third-party advertisers that would have ordinarily gotten it. But if you have an Android, your phone data is still going to Google. If you have an iPhone, your phone data is still going to Apple? So could you escape Anomaly Six-style, commercially sourced surveillance if you barely used your phone? I suppose maybe! But you would not be escaping all location tracking by any means. 

I think the only way to stop what Anomaly Six is doing is through new laws. And there are very few laws at all that place any sorts of limits on any part of this supply chain. I mean, there’s nothing stopping me from putting an app on the app store that’s loaded with trackers and selling information on people who download my app to whomever I want. And the people who buy it from me are free to sell it to whomever they want. And onward, and onward, and onward. There is nothing breaking that chain. 

There is some legislation that’s been proposed. Sen. Ron Wyden, who is a pretty outspoken critic of the sorts of surveillance and other forms of surveillance as well has co-sponsored something called the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, which would require Anomaly Six’s government customers to get a court order before getting that kind of data. The intention is to plug that loophole of just being able to buy your way around the Fourth Amendment as the name suggests. 

But even if that were to pass, it wouldn’t stop the supply chain. It wouldn’t stop the fact that your location is being harvested in the first place from all these apps. It wouldn’t stop the advertising side of things which is, I think, really what all this is built on top of, is the fact that digital advertising, particularly in the U.S., is lawless, and the companies are allowed to do essentially whatever they want with your data. Even if that legislation were to go through that would only stop this kind of surveillance or rather impede this kind of surveillance on the government side, it wouldn’t do anything to stop the kind of scenario that Jack painted with an employer wanting to surveil union organization efforts, right? I mean, it would have no effect on that. The onus should be on the companies that are invading people’s lives and extracting this information without their informed consent. 

Putting the responsibility on people is, I think, almost like expecting people to stop climate change by buying recycled water bottles and nothing else. I mean, it’s going to take a systemic reconfiguring of the digital economy to stop this sort of thing.

[Anxiously building music.]

SB: We reached out to Anomaly Six for comment. And one of its co-founders said: “Anomaly Six is a veteran-owned small business that cares about American interests, natural security, and understands the law.” 

I think they probably meant national security.

To read the full story, visit

[End credits music.]

SB: And that’s it for this episode of Intercepted. Follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast.

Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. José Olivares is Lead Producer. Supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. And Rick Kwan mixed our show. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky.

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Thanks so much.

Until next time, I’m Sam Biddle.

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