The innovation at the heart of the advertising technology industry is automated auctions to trade real-time data about mobile phone users—including their physical location and browsing habits, but not their real names. The primary purpose of this activity, known as real-time bidding, is to put digital ads in front of the people most likely to click on them. But it’s also possible to purchase this data with other goals in mind.
One notable nonadvertising participant is Rayzone Group Ltd. The Tel Aviv-based surveillance company for years has quietly harvested advertising data and repurposed it to help governments track individuals through their mobile phones. As part of these efforts, Rayzone has acquired companies specializing in ad technology and established relationships with brokers that resell data from major advertising exchanges, including the one owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google.