Georgia National Guard plans to track teenagers’ locations to flood them with recruitment ads

A few months back, I wrote about how (poor, mostly black) children were being coerced into joining JROTC. Armies in general have a long history of preying on the young and the poor, and the United States is no exception. The government-enforced poverty, the obscene costs of education and healthcare – so much about how the country is set up can make enlistment seem like the best shot at a decent life, even without the predatory tactics of recruiters. Unfortunately, recruiters are predatory, and are naturally updating their tools and tactics to be as effective as possible at feeding young people to the US war machine:

The federal contract materials outline plans by the Georgia Army National Guard to geofence 67 different public high schools throughout the state, targeting phones found within a one-mile boundary of their campuses with recruiting advertisements “with the intent of generating qualified leads of potential applicants for enlistment while also raising awareness of the Georgia Army National Guard.” Geofencing refers generally to the practice of drawing a virtual border around a real-world area and is often used in the context of surveillance-based advertising as well as more traditional law enforcement and intelligence surveillance. The Department of Defense expects interested vendors to deliver a minimum of 3.5 million ad views and 250,000 clicks, according to the contract paperwork.

While the deadline for vendors attempting to win the contract was the end of this past February, no public winner has been announced.

The ad campaign will make use of a variety of surveillance advertising techniques, including capturing the unique device IDs of student phones, tracking pixels, and IP address tracking. It will also plaster recruiting solicitations across Instagram, Snapchat, streaming television, and music apps. The documents note that “TikTok is banned for official DOD use (to include advertising),” owing to allegations that the app is a manipulative, dangerous conduit for hypothetical Chinese government propaganda.

The Georgia Army National Guard did not respond to a request for comment.

I bet they didn’t. Why would they bother? It’s not like there’s much chance of a Lever article stopping this.

I also love the irony of hand-wringing over “hypothetical Chinese government propaganda”, in a document outlining the use of a host of apps as conduits for US government propaganda. This is a good time to remind you, once again, that the US government does not care about human rights, privacy, or tyranny. It only pretends otherwise when it needs a cover for starting another war.

And while I do think military recruitment is absolutely a form of propaganda, they’re not just aiming this at the kids they’re trying to enlist, but also planning to send ads to parents, teachers, and other “centers of influence”, all aimed at pushing kids to sign up. It’s chilling to see it all laid out like this:

While the planned campaign appears primarily aimed at persuading high school students to sign up, the Guard is also asking potential vendors to also target “parents or centers of influence (i.e. coaches, school counselors, etc.)” with recruiting ads. The campaign plans not only call for broadcasting recruitment ads to kids at school, but also for pro-Guard ads to follow these students around as they continue using the internet and other apps, a practice known as retargeting. And while the digital campaign may begin within the confines of the classroom, it won’t remain there: One procurement document states the Guard is interested in “retargeting to high school students after school hours when they are at home,” as well as “after school hours. … This will allow us to capture potential leads while at after-school events.”

Although it’s possible that children caught in the geofence might have encountered a recruiter anyway — the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act mandated providing military recruiters with students’ contact information — critics of the plan say the use of geolocational data is an inherently invasive act. “Location based tracking is not legitimate,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s largely based on the collecting of people’s location data that they’re not aware of and haven’t given meaningful permission for.” The complex technology underpinning a practice like geofencing can obscure what it’s really accomplishing, argues Benjamin Lynde, an attorney with the ACLU of Georgia. “I think we have to start putting electronic surveillance in the context of what we would accept if it weren’t electronic,” Lynde told The Intercept. “If there were military recruiters taking pictures of students and trying to identify them that way, parents wouldn’t think that conduct is acceptable.” Lynde added that the ACLU of Georgia did not believe there were any state laws constraining geofence surveillance.

As the article goes on to say, a lot of this is allowed because of the way the US government ensures that basically anything rich people want to do is allowed by default. Corporations make money off of our data, and so their right to do so is protected. Children, on the other hand, should absolutely not expect protection:

It’s doubtful that potential vendors for the Georgia Guard have data accurate enough to avoid targeting kids under 17, according to Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher who closely tracks the surveillance advertising sector. “It would also sweep up plenty of families with young kids who gave them phones before they turned 16 and who were using networks that had location-targetable ads,” he explained in a message to The Intercept. “Very, very few advertising networks track the age of kids under 18. It’s one giant bucket.”

In-school recruiting been hotly debated for decades, both defended as a necessary means of maintaining an all-volunteer military and condemned as a coercive practice that exploits the immaturity of young students. While the state’s plan specifies targeting only high school juniors and seniors ages 17 and above, demographic ad targeting is known to be error prone, and experts told The Intercept it’s possible the recruiting messages could reach the phones of younger children. “Generally, commercial databases aren’t known for their high levels of accuracy,” explained the ACLU’s Stanley. “If you have some incorrect ages in there, it’s really not a big deal [to the broker].” The accuracy of demographic targeting aside, there’s also a problem of geographic reality: “There are middle schools within a mile of those high schools,” according to Lynde of the ACLU of Georgia. “There’s no way there can be a specific delineation of who they’re targeting in that geofence.”

Indeed, dozens of the schools pegged for geotargeting have middle schools, elementary schools, parks, churches, and other sites where children may congregate within a mile radius, according to Google Maps. A geofence containing Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, Georgia, would also snare phone-toting students at Still Elementary School and Lovinggood Middle School, the latter a mere thousand feet away. A mile-radius around Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Georgia, would also include the Walnut Grove Elementary School, along with the nearby Oak Meadow Montessori School, a community swim club, a public park, and an aquatic center. Lynde, who himself enlisted with the Georgia National Guard in 2005, added that he’s concerned beaming recruiting ads directly to kids’ phones “could be a means to bypass parental involvement in the recruiting process,” allowing the state to circumvent the scrutiny adults might bring to traditional military recruiting methods like brochures and phone calls to a child’s house. “Parents should be involved from the onset

They only want parental involvement if it’ll increase recruitment, I guess. The US makes extensive use of its armed forces to impose its will around the world, and members of the National Guard are a part of that, with the added bonus that they can be deployed within the US to “keep order”, and for political stunts. Given my overall views, it probably won’t surprise you that I don’t think this new program is in any way acceptable. More than that, I think that the people pushing it should be barred from holding power or influence, because they are pushing it.

It feels as though it becomes clearer every day that the US government does not serve the USian people. Just as we and our data are the products of big tech companies, our government cares for us only to the extend that we are needed to work for the rich and powerful. Not only are they cyber-stalking teenagers to recruit them into an institution that serves private interests, they’re going to do it by paying a for-profit corporation, because what really matters is that more money goes to those who’re already rolling in it.

The image shows Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, with a glowing hat brim and collar, and some kind of augmented reality visor over his eyes, with a modern city in the background. The text reads,

The image shows Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean, with a glowing hat brim and collar, and some kind of augmented reality visor over his eyes, with a modern city in the background. The text reads, “You best start believing in cyberpunk dystopias – you’re in one


  1. says

    Why the AF would any National Guard need to track teenagers’ locations just to send them adverts? Don’t we all get ridiculous amounts of targeted ads anyway, without anyone having to know where we actually are?

    You want to track other people’s kids’ movements? GET A FUCKING WARRANT.

  2. says

    @Raging Bee – as I understand it, they’re using the phones to figure out who’s a teenager. They don’t currently have the kids’ phones on file, so they’re using the known locations of schools to identify which phones probably belong to teenagers, and sending ads to those phones based on their regular proximity to schools.

    Sorry I didn’t explain that better!

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Georgia Army National Guard …

    Gotta admit, especially in this context, the G.A.N.G. has the right acronym.

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