Tracking US personnel through their love of beer

Bellingcat reports:

Surprise! The beer-rating app Untappd can be used to track the location history of military personnel. The social network has over eight million mostly European and North American users, and its features allow researchers to uncover sensitive information about said users at military and intelligence locations around the world.

For people in the military, neither drinking beer nor using social media is newsworthy on its own. But Untappd users log hundreds, often thousands of time-stamped location data points. These locations are neatly sorted in over 900 categories, which can be as diverse and specific as “botanic garden.” “strip club,” “gay bar,” “west-Ukrainian restaurant,” and “airport gate.” As the result of this, the app allows anyone to trace the movements of other users between sensitive locations — as well as their favorite bars, hotels, restaurants, neighbourhoods, and, sometimes, even private residences.

Examples of users that can be tracked this way include a U.S. drone pilot, along with a list of both domestic and overseas military bases he has visited, a naval officer, who checked in at the beach next to Guantanamo’s bay detention center as well as several times at the Pentagon, and a senior intelligence officer with over seven thousand check-ins, domestic and abroad. Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force are included as well.

Cross-referencing these check-ins with other social media makes it easy to find these individuals’ homes. Their profiles and the pictures they post also reveal family, friends, and colleagues.

There’s more at the link.

The article goes on to reveal the location of the CIA training base known as “The Farm”, based on Untappd data.  I daresay the CIA isn’t terribly happy about that.

This sort of thing must be an ongoing nightmare for security specialists.  Russia has gone so far as to ban the possession (let alone the use) of smartphones by its military personnel assigned to locations such as the Ukrainian separatist “states”, Syria, etc.  Needless to say, such prohibition is honored more in the breach than in the observance, which is how many photographs taken in those areas have been circulated in the West.  The US armed forces have imposed similar (although less draconian) restrictions, and have faced similar problems.  Remember how a fitness tracking app revealed the locations of otherwise secret US bases, a few years ago?

How many more such tell-tale apps are out there, in how many countries?  One suspects that US intelligence services may by now have a specialist division checking such data in every nation around the world, to see what intelligence might be gleaned from them.  I’m willing to bet China and Russia, and probably Israel, are doing likewise.



  1. "…intelligence services may by now have a specialist division checking such data in every nation around the world, to see what intelligence might be gleaned from them."
    Checking, hell; if they have any sense they're generating phony data as quickly as they can. It's embarrassing that the antifa social media network has not been diluted by misdirection.

  2. I limit the apps on my phone to local TV news or my banks, and keep my locator "OFF" unless I am hiking or kayaking and want to be found in case of emergency. I shun social media, with the exception of Twitter and for that I use desktop computers and my Nom de Plume with a separate Gmail account away from my phone.

  3. Everyone forgets the one detail of all smartphone aps….

    YOU AND WHAT YOU DO ARE THE DATA, hence you are the salable product.

    Data has value and that what they sell to give you a free ap!


  4. There's a reason phones and data plans are so very cheap. They shouldn't be, but they are.

    Because they (phones and data plans) are information generators and said information is sold to everyone.

    What would make people scream if Big Government decreed it or did it, well, they (the people) actively pay for the chance for Big Business to do the same and more.

    Smartphones. I have one. And I use as a wifely-communications device pretty much exclusively. Don't use the apps, don't use the wifi, barely have used the camera. Yet the intrusion of data-mining into my life due to the minimum usage I have is very annoying. Grrr.

  5. Since it is so easy to track an IP address back to a small geographic area it might be wise for folks that feel at risk to consider a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for their on-line activities from home.

  6. My last beer in the service was in '87. I have a flip phone, and WILL NOT have my own personal Stasi agent.

  7. I've been told, on reasonably good authority, that the gps on a smartphone will continue to log position data EVEN IF THE PHONE IS TURNED OFF. As soon as the phone is turned back on, the logged data is uploaded. Don't know if it's true or not, but if you don't want that to occur, the phone needs the battery removed, and for good measure, store the beast in a faraday cage.

  8. For the best part of 50 years Cable and Wireless Ltd had a succession of cableships stationed in Vigo Bay in Spain,ready to deal with faults on Atlantic and Mediterranean cables, initially telegraph and later telephone. The legend is that a worldwide trail of Bass beer bottles could guide them anywhere they'd been before.

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