Thousands of smartphone applications in Apple (AAPL.O) and Google’s (GOOGL.O) online stores contain computer code developed by a technology company, Pushwoosh, that presents itself as based in the United States, but is actually Russian, Reuters has found.
The U.S. Army said it had removed an app containing Pushwoosh code in March because of the same concerns. That app was used by soldiers at one of the country’s main combat training bases.
According to company documents publicly filed in Russia and reviewed by Reuters, Pushwoosh is headquartered in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk, where it is registered as a software company that also carries out data processing. It employs around 40 people and reported revenue of 143,270,000 rubles ($2.4 mln) last year. Pushwoosh is registered with the Russian government to pay taxes in Russia.
On social media and in U.S. regulatory filings, however, it presents itself as a U.S. company, based at various times in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C., Reuters found.
Pushwoosh provides code and data processing support for software developers, enabling them to profile the online activity of smartphone app users and send tailor-made push notifications from Pushwoosh servers.
On its website, Pushwoosh says it does not collect sensitive information, and Reuters found no evidence Pushwoosh mishandled user data. Russian authorities, however, have compelled local companies to hand over user data to domestic security agencies.
Pushwoosh’s founder, Max Konev, told Reuters in a September email that the company had not tried to mask its Russian origins. “I am proud to be Russian and I would never hide this.”
He said the company “has no connection with the Russian government of any kind” and stores its data in the United States and Germany.
Cybersecurity experts said storing data overseas would not prevent Russian intelligence agencies from compelling a Russian firm to cede access to that data, however.
Pushwoosh code was installed in the apps of a wide array of international companies, influential non-profits and government agencies from global consumer goods company Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to the politically powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Britain’s Labour Party.
Pushwoosh code has been embedded into almost 8,000 apps in the Google and Apple app stores, according to Appfigures, an app intelligence website. Pushwoosh’s website says it has more than 2.3 billion devices listed in its database.
“Pushwoosh collects user data including precise geolocation, on sensitive and governmental apps, which could allow for invasive tracking at scale,” said Jerome Dangu, co-founder of Confiant, a firm that tracks misuse of data collected in online advertising supply chains.
Pushwoosh never mentioned it was Russian-based in eight annual filings in the U.S. state of Delaware, where it is registered, an omission which could violate state law.
Instead, Pushwoosh listed an address in Union City, California as its principal place of business from 2014 to 2016. That address does not exist, according to Union City officials.
Pushwoosh used LinkedIn accounts purportedly belonging to two Washington, D.C.-based executives named Mary Brown and Noah O’Shea to solicit sales. But neither Brown nor O’Shea are real people, Reuters found.