Big Brother is, Err, Out Shopping: How online adverts fuel government surveillance

Ever feel like someone’s peering over your shoulder as you browse the web? Well, a recent interview by Ad Exchanger reveals a particularly unsettling truth: US intelligence agencies are reportedly buying up mountains of our online data, including our browsing history, for surveillance purposes. This should send shivers down the spine of any internet user. Here’s why:

  • They’re Not Just Tracking Cookies Anymore: Forget those pesky browser cookies you can clear. The interview dives into “programmatic data,” a much more sinister beast. This data goes way beyond simple website visits and can include things like your unique device identifier, your physical location, and even details about your online purchases. Imagine a detailed profile being built of you, not just the websites you visit, but the kind of phone you use, where you shop online, and even where you!  This data is utilised by online advertisers, and is potentially gathered and updated each time you see an advert onlineā€¦
  • Big Brother at the Data Auction:  Intelligence agencies can waltz into a virtual marketplace and buy access to enormous collections of this programmatic data from data brokers. These brokers aggregate information from countless sources, creating a treasure trove for anyone willing to pay. This essentially gives the government, and perhaps more concerningly nefarious individuals and organisations, a powerful tool for monitoring our every move.  The fact that the CIA found more success in these approaches than million dollar satellite surveillance and spies on the ground is particularly concerning
  • Unclear Rules and a Stifled Voice: There are serious concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding how this data is used. There are very few regulations on how intelligence agencies and others can purchase and utilise this information.  In fact as the interview points out, the data seller is mostly unaware of the end use cases.  This creates a chilling effect: if you know the world might be watching your every click, it can make you hesitant to express yourself freely online. Open discourse and healthy debate could be stifled by the fear of unseen eyes.

So, what can we do as internet users to protect ourselves?

  • Become Privacy-Savvy Online:  Start by utilizing the privacy settings on your browser and consider installing extensions that block advertising trackers from collecting your data. There are also privacy-focused search engines available that don’t track your searches such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Fight for Your Right to Privacy: Knowledge is power. Stay informed. Look for reputable sources like privacy advocacy groups (and LetAlone!) to understand your rights and the current landscape! Share our blog with others. 

By being aware of how your data is used and taking steps to protect yourself, we can fight for our collective right to online privacy and ensure a free and open internet for everyone. 

Remember, knowledge and action are our best weapons against Big Brother’s shopping spree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *