ICCL Exposes Patternz: Global Surveillance Tool Threatens Sensitive Data and Privacy

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ICCL Exposes Patternz: Global Surveillance Tool Threatens Sensitive Data and Privacy

The non-profit organization Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has uncovered a previously unknown surveillance tool called Patternz, which allegedly taps into so-called Real Time Bidding (RTB) data to create profiles of billions of people worldwide. According to a statement from the ICCL, the tool is distributed by a private company based in Israel, which is also known for other espionage tools like Pegasus or Sherlock.

RTB is a method that allows advertisers to bid on online ad spaces in real time. The ad displayed is always from the highest bidder. ICCL sees the trade in RTB data as a serious threat to the security of the EU and the USA. The data provides extremely sensitive information about important personalities and military personnel.

Data also flows to China and Russia

Companies like Google reportedly send RTB data to entities in China and Russia, where security authorities are allowed to access this information based on national laws. One of the recipients of RTB data is said to be the Russian data broker Aidata, which sells data on individuals in Russia who frequently visit websites of the political opposition.

“This system is active on almost all websites and apps,” warns the ICCL about RTB. “With RTB, sensitive data about individuals using these websites and apps is shared with a large number of other companies without security measures to protect the data. This happens billions of times every day,” explains the organization in a separate statement, emphasizing the dangers posed by the RTB system to Europe.

RTB data provides highly sensitive information

Tools like Patternz allow their users to track the travel routes of targets and their children, among other things. Furthermore, based on RTB data, it’s possible to infer financial problems, mental states, or other intimate secrets. Location information, timestamps, and other characteristics within the data make it easy for malicious actors to link to specific individuals.

In an investigation across tens of thousands of websites, ICCL found that EU military personnel and political decision-makers are also captured through RTB. “Even if the targets use secure devices, data about them can flow through RTB from personal devices, their friends, family, and vulnerable personal contacts,” the organization states.

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Mark Brannon
Tech journalist Mark Brannon explores the digital frontier, delivering engaging news and in-depth features on cutting-edge innovations and industry developments.