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Google Is Sharing Our Data

Found at: gopher.erb.pw:70/roman/phlog2022/468.txt

Google Is Sharing Our Data at a Startling Scale

It transmits our locations and browsing habits 70 billion times a day
to advertisers amid trillions a year by other firms, a new report
shows. https://bloom.bg/3lkNawi
Each time you open an app on your phone or browse the web, an
auction for your eyeballs is taking place behind the scenes thanks
to a thriving market for personal data. The size of that market has
always been hard to pin down, but a new report from the Irish Council
for Civil Liberties, which has aggressively campaigned for years in
the U.S. and Europe to put limits on the trade of digital data, has
now put a figure to it. 
Along with the Pixel phones, watches and earbuds at Google’s annual
showcase of software and devices last week came a pair of nifty
looking translation glasses. Put them on and real-time “subtitles”
appear on the lenses as you watch a person speaking in a different
language. Very cool. But the glasses aren’t commercially available.
It’s also unlikely they will make anywhere near as much money as
advertising does for Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc. Of the company’s
$68 billion in total revenue from the quarter ending March 31, 2022,
about $54 billion came from advertising.
The scope of our own, oblivious involvement in that business is also
incomparable with any other time in history.
Each time you open an app on your phone or browse the web, an
auction for your eyeballs is taking place behind the scenes thanks to
a thriving market for personal data. The size of that market has
always been hard to pin down, but a new report from the Irish Council
for Civil Liberties, which has aggressively campaigned for years in
the U.S. and Europe to put limits on the trade of digital data, has
now put a figure to it. The report, which the council shared with
Bloomberg Opinion, says ad platforms transmit the location data and
browsing habits of Americans and Europeans about 178 trillion times
each year. According to the report, Google transmits the same kind
of data more than 70 billion times daily, across both regions.
It is hard for humans to conceptualize such numbers, even if machines
calculate them comfortably everyday - but if the exhaust of our
personal data could be seen in the same way pollution can, we’d be
surrounded by an almost impenetrable haze that gets thicker the more
we interact with our phones. Quantified another way: By way of online
activity and location, a person in the U.S. is exposed 747 times each
day to real-time bidding, according to the data. The council says its
unnamed source has special access to a manager of an ad campaign
run by Google. (The figure doesn’t include personal data transmitted
by Meta Platform Inc.’s Facebook or Amazon.com Inc.’s ad networks,
meaning the true measure of all broadcast data is probably much
larger.)
Why does any of that matter? Apps are mostly free and useful after
all, and there are no obvious negative consequences to being
digitally mined for data.
Except, there have been. At least one large advertising network has
admitted to passing user data on to the Department of Homeland
Security and other government entities to track mobile phones without
warrants, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. The
precise movements of people who used the gay-dating app Grindr
were also made publicly available to buy from a mobile-advertising
company, until Grindr stopped sharing location data with ad networks
two years ago. But last year, a Catholic news publication The Pillar
was still able to track the location of a priest on Grindr using
“commercially available records” of data from the app, and watched
him travel between his office, home and various gay bars before
publishing a story about his “serial sexual misconduct.” It’s still
unclear how The Pillar got that information, but Grindr said at the
time that an advertising partner could have been the source.
The stakes are now higher with the prospect of a widespread abortion
ban in the US. What if state prosecutors start using phone data to
root out supporters of abortion or even women who order abortion
pills online?
Capturing sensitive data is possible thanks to the wild and messy
world of real-time bidding, a hugely popular approach to digital
advertising and part of the lifeblood of companies like Google and
Facebook. Here’s how it works: Each time a smartphone user opens
an app or website that shows ads, their device shares data about
that user to help show them a targeted ad. The advertiser with the
highest bid for the available ad space wins.
The data can go to dozens or even hundreds of companies for each
auction. Google says it transmits the data of American users to
about 4,700 companies in total across the world. Each “broadcast”
- as they are called in the industry - typically shares data about
a person’s location -including “hyperlocal” targeting, according
to Google own pitch to advertisers - personal characteristics and
browsing habits to help ad firms build user profiles. The ad industry
also has a lengthy taxonomy that the networks use to categorize
people, including sensitive labels like “anxiety disorders” and
“legal issues,” or even “incest” and “abuse support,” according
to a public document published by the ad network consortium that
sets standards for the industry.
The complex and murky nature of the multibillion-dollar online ad
business makes it difficult to know precisely what data Google is
sharing about us. For what it’s worth, Google tends to broadcast
less personal data about people than other smaller advertising
networks do, according to Jonny Ryan, a senior fellow at the council
who oversaw the compilation of the latest data. But Google also
makes up the biggest share of broadcast data, he added.
The sheer size of data broadcast each day is not a fun fact: It
underscores the reality that we are surrounded by devices that
collect information, ostensibly to make our lives better but which
is then sold to the highest bidder. Smart speakers, fitness trackers
and augmented-reality glasses are just a few examples of the
growing trend of ambient computing. The data collected by those
devices can be exploited in ways we don’t know. Last week,
Vice reported that the San Francisco Police Department had sought
footage from General Motors Co.-owned Cruise, a self-driving car
company, to help with investigative leads. The SFPD denied it
wanted to use that footage for ongoing surveillance.
Even so, more data broadcasting means greater chances of misuse.
Even when the purpose is as innocuous as advertising, ambient
computing runs the risk of turning into ambient surveillance.


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