It’s surprisingly easy for anyone to buy ads that track location and app usage, study says

Researchers at the University of Washington have found a way to track a person’s location and app use through serving ads on mobile apps.

The result opens the door for significant privacy invasions through the app-based advertising system. The researchers obtained the information by purchasing a series of ads targeted to specific locations and apps, then checking which mobile subscribers fit the targeting. In experiments conducted on Android devices, the team was able to pinpoint a person’s location within eight meters through a targeted ad. They tested ads on 10 different apps, including Grindr, Imgur, Words with Friends, and Talkatone, all using widely available ad networks. By serving ad content to a user’s apps, the ad buyers could learn what apps the user has installed. That information could be sensitive, revealing a user’s sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Researchers could also find out when a user went to a specific place. After targeting ads to a specific location, the ad network would notify them within 10 minutes of when the user arrived.


It’s surprisingly easy for anyone to buy ads that track location and app usage, study says