Surveillance firm spies on people via their own cars

(Planet-Today) A surveillance firm is spying on people using technology that tracks the real-time location of cars in almost every country. A document obtained by Motherboard shows that the Ulysses Group tracks people’s cars by looking at the data collected and sent by their components.

(Article by Virgilio Marin republished from

“Ulysses can provide our clients with the ability to remotely geolocate vehicles in nearly every country except for North Korea and Cuba on a near real-time basis,” the document, which was authored by Ulysses, reads. “Currently, we can access over 15 billion vehicle locations around the world every month.”

The South Carolina-based company previously sold its services to Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the branch of the U.S. military tasked with counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and special reconnaissance. But the firm stated that it is not selling its geolocation services to the U.S. government at the moment.

Modern cars equipped with surveillance devices

According to its website, Ulysses offers cellular interception and jamming technology, hidden video recorders, and military training. The company can track car locations via “telematics systems,” which are navigation, safety, security and communications systems rolled into one convenient piece of technology.

Automakers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) often equip car dashboards with a telematics system to collect information, such as airbag and seatbelt status, engine temperature and current location. The system transmits this information either back to carmakers, OEMs or third parties, such as aggregator companies. The latter purchase or obtain this data, repackage it and then sell the processed data to their own clients.

Andrea Amico, the founder of Privacy4Cars, which sells tools that remove personal data from vehicles, revealed that cars usually transmit telematics data to several companies.

“The OEM will have first dibs to the data, because they made the car and have access to the telematics,” she said. “But the company that provides the map itself, for instance, would have access to it; the company that provides the infotainment system may have access to it,” and so on.

While smartphone users can see what data an app is requesting, this feature is not yet readily available in telematics systems. “We have not entered that era yet with cars,” Amico said.

The document did not indicate whether Ulysses obtains its data from automakers, OEMs or aggregators. But one company being linked to Ulysses is Otonomo. According to a presentation made for investors, the Israeli company has partnerships with 16 OEMs and oversees more than 40 million vehicles from various brands, such as BMW and General Motors. The firm’s clients number thousands, who all have access to Otonomo’s car data.

When Motherboard asked if Ulysses is an Otonomo client, the latter’s head of content and communications Jodie Joseph Asiag said: “It is our policy not to comment on the status of any commercial relationship unless there has been a public announcement to the fact.”

Selling data to the military

The document suggested that Ulysses is interested in selling to the military. It advertised that Ulysses has access to the bulk of commercial telematics data, which allows clients to access real-time data on moving targets without getting into harm’s way. Clients can further geolocate one vehicle or track 25 million at the same time.

“We believe that this one attribute will dramatically enhance military intelligence and operational capabilities, as well as reduce the costs and risk footprint of ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] assets currently used to search for and acquire mobile targets of interest,” the document read.

Ulysses has signed many deals with the military before. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr Timothy Hawkins told Motherboard that the company entered a one-year contract with SOCOM in 2016 to analyze how competitor countries were making financial investments in Africa, as well as Central and South America. It also worked on four contracts with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is under the Department of Defense.

The firm is currently not under any government contract related to telematics, according to Ulysses president Andrew Lewis.

“We do not have any contracts with the government or any of its agencies related to our work in the field and we have never received any funding whatsoever from the government related to telematics,” Lewis said.

The company’s LinkedIn page indicates that it recently participated in the Navy’s Joint Interagency Field Experimentation. Held from March 1 to 5, the quarterly event provides opportunities for combatant commands such as SOCOM to experiment with new technology in the field.

The Navy acknowledged requests for comment but declined to answer specific questions on whether Ulysses demoed its telematics data services to the Navy, or what the purpose of the firm’s attendance was.

Learn more about the various ways companies and the government has been spying on people at

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