Surveillance Capitalism

The Markup has a terrifying article From “Heavy Purchasers” of Pregnancy Tests to the Depression-Prone: We Found 650,000 Ways Advertisers Label You:

The Markup has analyzed a database of 650,000 of these audience segments, newly unearthed on the website of Microsoft’s ad platform Xandr. The trove of data indicates that advertisers could also target people based on sensitive information like being “heavy purchasers” of pregnancy test kits, having an interest in brain tumors, being prone to depression, visiting places of worship, or feeling “easily deflated” or that they “get a raw deal out of life.”

Xandr was purchased from AT&T in 2021 if you wonder what telco do with your internet connectivity, mobile or your TV service.

“I think it’s the largest piece of evidence I’ve ever seen that provides information about what I call today’s “distributed surveillance economy,” said Wolfie Christl, a privacy researcher at Cracked Labs, who discovered the file and shared it with The Markup.

This surveillance capitalism is a topic often evaded when companies are asked about it. It is something they don’t talk about because it’s it doesn’t look good:

Microsoft removed the file from its website after we emailed the company and did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The article note that some categories are illegal in some states because of some privacy. While the categories are labelled, it seems Xandr have no problem using them as long as it is in a place were it’s not illegal.

And some of the categories are considered criminal activities in some US states, or elsewhere.

It appears this file was meant to showcase the wide range of data sources available to license from Xandr’s marketplace (no individual consumers are listed in the dataset).

To be fair I am not surprised. Everything is meant to be sold on the open market and there is even a question whether this is legal in Europe. And while the dataset didn’t list individuals, you can be sure that it is well guarded, and not because they care about privacy, but because they can sell it.

Adam Schwartz, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said that the effort by the online ad industry to closely target people, as in the segments file reviewed by The Markup, constitutes “one of the greatest threats to data privacy” today.

The amount of effort put into encroaching privacy and tracking users is gigantic, and only matched by effort in limiting these with not always successful efforts.

All in all, we need better privacy protection enshrined into a law, with hefty penalties like a sizeable amount of the turn over (revenue) in fines. Here in Canada, it seems the government was more keen on helping the telecartel lobby by regulating streaming and user generated content, rather than moving foward with the over promised never delivered privacy bill. These big corporations surely have lot of lobbyists…