The IRS was able to query a database of location data quietly harvested from ordinary smartphone apps over 10,000 times, according to a copy of the contract between IRS and the data provider obtained by Motherboard.
The document provides more insight into what exactly the IRS wanted to do with a tool purchased from Venntel, a government contractor that sells clients access to a database of smartphone movements. The Inspector General is currently investigating the IRS for using the data without a warrant to try to track the location of Americans.
“This contract makes clear that the IRS intended to use Venntel’s spying tool to identify specific smartphone users using data collected by apps and sold onwards to shady data brokers. The IRS would have needed a warrant to obtain this kind of sensitive information from AT&T or Google,” Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard in a statement after reviewing the contract.
Venntel sources its location data from gaming, weather, and other innocuous looking apps. An aide for the office of Senator Ron Wyden, whose office has been investigating the location data industry, previously told Motherboard that officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has also purchased Venntel products, said they believe Venntel also obtains location information from the real-time bidding that occurs when advertisers push their adverts into users’ browsing sessions.
One of the new documents says Venntel sources the location information from its “advertising analytics network and other sources.” Venntel is a subsidiary of advertising firm Gravy Analytics.
The data is “global,” according to a document obtained from CBP.