The company’s co-founder and COO, Ilja Gorelik, is accused by former employees of selling access to Mitto’s networks to secretly surveil and track mobile customers

According to a report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, ex-employees are accusing Mitto co-founder, Ilja Gorelik, of selling private mobile location data to surveillance companies. 

Mitto is a Swiss company employed by the likes of Google and Twitter to send automated text messages to customers, typically for sales promotions or for security purposes. The company has agreements with mobile operators in over 100 countries, giving it access to billions of phones over a large variety of mobile networks, including those from Vodafone, Telefónica, MTN, and Deutsche Telekom. 

Crucially, the deals that MItto has in place potentially gives the company access to the location of phones in countries of interest to government security and surveillance agencies in the West, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Ex-Mitto employees told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that, unbeknownst to Mitto’s technology or operator partners, Gorelik was selling access to Mitto’s networks, which was then being used to secretly locate customers via their mobile phones. The buyers in these arrangements were reportedly surveillance companies contracted by government agencies. 

According to some of the sources, Gorelik installed custom software that would help target individuals.

In response to these allegations, Mitto said it would conduct an internal investigation to explore whether the business had been compromised. 

“To be clear, Mitto does not, has not, and will not organise and operate a separate business, division, or entity that provides surveillance companies access to telecom infrastructure to secretly locate people via their mobile phones, or other illegal acts,” said the company in a statement. “Mitto also does not condone, support, and enable the exploitation of telecom networks with whom the company partners to deliver service to its global customers.”

This report shines a light on an uncomfortable fact that has been well known but poorly tackled by telcos for many years now, namely that private sector surveillance industry is growing fast and is in near direct opposition to their own cybersecurity efforts. While these companies assert that their technology is only being used to catch criminals, it nonetheless raises serious concerns about customer privacy and human rights.

As we move into 2022, operators must be more vigilant about their network security and their partners than ever. 


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