Users of this gig work app are inadvertently gathering intelligence for the US military



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The U.S. military is paying users of a gig work app to inadvertently gather intelligence for the US military, according to reports.

Premise, which pays users around 5 to 10 cents to carry out tasks, such as taking a photo of an ATM or completing a survey, has received at least $5 million since 2017 on military projects for the U.S. Army and Air Force, according to federal spending records reported by the Wall Street Journal.

It says that about half of its clients are private companies seeking information to better understand the market, but the Journal revealed pitch documents from the app to the military that appear to show its users may be contributing to government intelligence gathering.

A 2019 proposal for US forces in Afghanistan said the app could gauge the effectiveness of US information operations, scout and map out key social structures such as mosques, banks and internet cafes, and covertly monitor cell-tower and Wi-Fi signals in a 100-square-kilometer area.

The presentation said that the company could design tasks to ‘safeguard true intent,’ hiding the intelligence gathering nature of the operation from contributors.

Another Premise document explained that ‘proxy activities’ such as counting bus stops, electricity lines or ATMs could be used to get contributors to move around as the app gathers background data on wireless networks or other mobile phones.

Responding to the claims, the app released a statement saying: “The implication that Premise is a tool of surveillance is completely inaccurate and unfounded.

“We actually tell our contributors upfront that we’re going to pay them for this data, we own it, and we’re going to market it – just like many other data collection and market research firms.”

The company also denied that it put any of its users at risk, saying that it designed tasks with safety and privacy as a priority.

“Data gained from our contributors helped inform government policy makers on how to best deal with vaccine hesitancy, susceptibility to foreign interference and misinformation in elections, as well as the location and nature of gang activity in Honduras,” Premise Chief Executive Officer Maury Blackman told the Journal.

“If some of our data is used by government departments to shape policy and to protect our citizens, we are proud of that,” he added.

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