Apple to Ban Apps With X-Mode Tracker That Sells Data to U.S. Defense Contractors

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Both Apple and Google this week told developers that they need to remove X-Mode Social tracking software from all of their apps or risk a ban, reports The Wall Street Journal. Apple and Google are aiming to prevent X-Mode Social from collecting location information from smartphones after it became clear that the company has provided data to U.S. defense contractors.

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Google is giving developers seven days to remove X-Mode, while Apple told developers that they have two weeks to remove X-Mode trackers from their apps. Apple found that 100 apps made by 30 developers included the X-Mode software.

Last month, Vice published a piece on how X-Mode collects data directly from apps and then sells it to government contractors that then pass it along to the U.S. military. X-Mode pays developers to include its SDK in their apps, and in April, X-Mode’s CEO said that it tracks more than 25 million devices in the United States and 40 million elsewhere.

That led to a government investigation into the sale of the data, which in turn led to the Apple and Google ban. X-Mode has since claimed that it is reevaluating its government work and that it has been unfairly singled out because many other companies collect similar data.

“A ban on X-Mode’s SDK would have broader ecosystem implications considering X-Mode collects similar mobile app data as most advertising SDKs, and Apple and Google would be setting the precedent that they can determine private enterprises’ ability to collect and use mobile app data,” the company said.

In a statement, Senator Ron Wyden, who launched an investigation into X-Mode, said that Apple and Google are “doing the right thing.”

“Americans are sick of learning about apps selling their location information and other sensitive data to anyone with a checkbook, including to the government,” Mr. Wyden said. “Apple and Google deserve credit for doing the right thing and exiling X-Mode Social, the most high-profile tracking company, from their app stores. But there’s still far more work to be done to protect Americans’ privacy, including rooting out the many other data brokers that are siphoning data from Americans’ phones.”

Apple is working to cut down on other apps that use the same tracking methods. In iOS 14.3, Apple is implementing a new App Store feature that requires developers to clearly disclose what data is collected from the people who use their apps, and starting next year, apps will also have to get user permission to track people across apps and websites.

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