Google transmits our personal data 70 billion times a day

Along with Pixel phones, watches, and headphones, a pair of fine-looking translation glasses were unveiled at Google’s annual software and hardware event last week.

When you put them on, “subtitles” appear in front of your eyes in real-time, showing what the person is saying if he uses a foreign language. This is great, but the glasses are not commercially available. In addition, they are unlikely to generate as much money as advertising brings to the parent company Alphabet. Of the $ 68 billion in total revenue for the quarter to March 31, 2022, about $ 54 billion came from advertising, Parmi Olson told Bloomberg.

The scope of our own, inconspicuous involvement in this business also could not be compared to any other period in history.

Every time you open a phone app or surf the web, a behind-the-scenes auction is held for your attention thanks to the thriving personal data market. The size of this market has always been difficult to determine, but a new report from the Irish Civil Liberties Council, which has been campaigning aggressively in the US and Europe for years to restrict digital data trade, now reveals more details. The report, which the council shared with Bloomberg Opinion, said advertising platforms transmitted about $ 178 trillion in location and surfing data to Americans and Europeans. times every year. According to the text, Google transmits the same type of data more than 70 billion times a day in both regions.

It is difficult for people to imagine such numbers, but if the use of personal data can be seen in the same way that pollution is seen, we would be surrounded by an almost impenetrable fog that thickens as we interact. with our phones. Speaking of data: through online activity and location, one person in the United States is exposed 747 times each day to real-time bidding. The Council claims that this does not include personal data transmitted by the advertising networks of Facebook and, which means that the real values ​​of all transmitted data are probably much higher.

Why does this thing matter? After all, most applications are free and useful, and there are no obvious negative effects of digitally acquired data.

In fact, there is. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article at least one major advertising network has admitted to transmitting user data to the US Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies to track cell phones without a warrant. Accurate traffic data for people using the Grindr gay dating app also became publicly available for purchase from a mobile advertising company, until Grindr stopped sharing location information with ad networks two years ago. But last year, the Catholic media, The Pillar, was still able to track the location of a priest who used Grindr using “commercially available records” with data from the app. So he was able to see him travel between the office, home, and various gay bars before publishing an article about his “serial sexual misconduct.” It is not yet clear how The Pillar obtained this information, but Grindr said at the time that the source could be one of its advertising partners.

Now the stakes are even higher given the possibility of a widespread ban on abortion in the United States. What if prosecutors start using phone data to “remove” abortion advocates or harass women who order abortion pills online?

Capturing sensitive data is possible thanks to the wild and cluttered world of real-time bidding – a trendy approach to digital advertising and part of the lifeblood of companies such as Google and Facebook. How does it work? Each time a smartphone user opens an app or website that displays ads, the device shares information about that user to help them run a targeted ad. The advertiser with the highest bid for available inventory wins.

The data can go to dozens, even hundreds of companies at each auction. Google says it transfers information from American users to about 4,700 companies worldwide. Each “broadcast”, as it is called in the industry, usually shares information about the location of the person in question, personal characteristics, and browsing habits. In this way, it helps advertising companies build user profiles. The advertising industry also has a long taxonomy that networks use to categorize people, including using sensitive labels such as “anxiety disorders” and “legal issues”, even “incest” and “supporting violence”, according to a public document published by a consortium of advertising a network that sets standards for the industry.

The complex and vague nature of the multibillion-dollar online advertising business prevents us from understanding exactly what data Google shares about us. According to Johnny Ryan, a senior member of the board, Google tends to pass on less personal information to people than other smaller ad networks. But Google has the largest share of the data transferred.

The huge amount of information broadcast every day is not a fun fact. He emphasizes the reality that we are surrounded by devices that collect data, ostensibly to make our lives better, but which is then sold at the highest possible price. Smart speakers, fitness trackers, and augmented reality goggles are just a few examples of the growing trend in this direction. The data collected by these devices may be used in ways unknown to us. Last week, Vice reported that the San Francisco Police Department had sought out staff from Cruise, co-owned by General Motors, to help with the investigation. The police deny using the content of the case.

However, greater data transfer means increasing risks of misuse. Even when the target is as harmless as advertising, digital devices risk becoming a tool for monitoring the entire environment around us.

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