For $1000, anyone can purchase online ads to track your location and app use

Privacy concerns have long swirled around how much information online advertising networks collect about people's browsing, buying and social media habits -- typically to sell you something.

But could someone use mobile advertising to learn where you go for coffee? Could a burglar establish a sham company and send ads to your phone to learn when you leave the house? Could a suspicious employer see if you're using shopping apps on work time?

The answer is yes, at least in theory. New University of Washington research, which will be presented Oct. 30 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society, suggests that for roughly $1,000, someone with devious intent can purchase and target online advertising in ways that allow them to track the location of other individuals and learn what apps they are using.

"Anyone from a foreign intelligence agent to a jealous spouse can pretty easily sign up with a large internet advertising company and on a fairly modest budget use these ecosystems to track another individual's behavior," said lead author Paul Vines, a recent doctoral graduate in the UW's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

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