Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an article authored by four reporters — Byron Tau, Andrew Mollica, Patience Haggin, and Dustin Volz — explaining how data collected by ad tech ends up in the hands of U.S. government agencies. They cited the case of Near Intelligence, which received data from apps like Life360 and then sold that data through intermediaries to U.S. military and intelligence.
I found this story via an Electronic Frontier Foundation post, which calls it an “investigation from the Wall Street Journal” which “identified a company called Near Intelligence”. An earlier version of the story referred to it as a “WSJ News Exclusive”.
But this was not a Journal investigation nor an exclusive — not really. The Journal did not break the news of Near Intelligence, it was not the first to report on Life360’s privacy violating side hustle, and it did not discover links between Near and Life360. All of those stories were first reported by two journalists at the Markup, Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng, in 2021. That September, they wrote about Near Intelligence in a story about data brokers more generally, the first instance I can find of an article where any journalist scrutinized the company. Then, in December, those same reporters broke the story of Life360 selling location data collected from its users and feeding it to the data broker industry, including Near Intelligence. Because of the outcry over the latter story, Life360 said it would reduce location data sales.
None of this solid journalism goes acknowledged in the Journal story. There is not one link or credit to the Markup despite repeated references to the results of its investigations. To be fair, it is not as though the four reporters for the Journal did not add anything: in fact, they obtained internal emails showing senior leadership at Near was fully aware that it was selling data without permission, among adding further colour and context. But Keegan and Ng at the Markup laid the groundwork for this story and ought to be recognized.