To quote the legendary author Paulo Coelho, “Everything in life has its price.” Yes, everything, including our private data. If in doubt, let me point you in the direction of Google, a problematic multinational company.
A new report published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) demonstrates the dangers of Google. Specifically, it illustrates how Google wields the sword of real-time bidding (RTB) with devastating effects.
First off, what’s RTB? According to Google’s website, it involves the buying and selling of “digital advertising inventory.”
Now, ask yourself, what’s meant by the term “inventory”? A comprehensive list. To be clear, this list, as the ICCL report states, outlines in great detail the markings left by our digital footprints.
This “$117+ billion industry,” as the authors noted, “operates behind the scenes on websites and apps.” It tracks everything—absolutely everything you do—including what you look at, “no matter how private or sensitive.”
Moreover, this digital ledger records where and when you go. If you think this is bad—and it very much is—I have even more bad news for you: Things only get worse from here.
Every single day, 365 days per year, Google broadcasts all of this data to almost 5,000 different companies worldwide. This enables the recipients, all 5,000 of them, to extensively profile you.
Have you ever wondered why you get targeted with very specific, very personal ads?
Well, now you know. In the words of the ICCL researchers, “RTB is the biggest data breach ever recorded.” Besides tracking and sharing what you view online, Google’s RTB shares your real-world location many times per day. How many? “178 Trillion times every year in the U.S. & Europe.”
If you happen to be an American reading this and you happen to use Google on a daily basis, then you can expect to have your “online activity and location exposed 747 times every day.” If you live in Ohio, that number rises to 812. Why Ohio? Don’t ask me; I’m just the messenger.
Across the United States, internet users’ online behavior and locations are tracked, cataloged, and shared more than 100 trillion times per year.
In Europe, things aren’t much better; RTB exposes people’s data 376 times every 24 hours. Online behavior and locations are tracked 71 trillion times.
For some reason, Google really seems to have it in for the Germans. According to the report, “Google sends 19.6 million broadcasts about German Internet users’ online behaviour every minute that they are online.”
Whether you happen to live in Berlin or Boston, Munich or Miami, the following point should scare you: “Private data is sent to firms across the globe, including to Russia and China, without any means of controlling what is then done with the data.”
To fully understand the pure evil of RTB, researchers at European Digital Rights (EDRi), an international advocacy group based in Brussels, ask us to “imagine auctions, stock exchange, traders, big screens, noise, graphs, percentages.” Now imagine all of this going to the highest bidding advertiser. One of those bidders, as the report highlights, was the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The acquired data was used to track the phones of millions of U.S. citizens. This was done without a warrant. In other words, the DHS, the supposed defenders of truth and justice, behaved unlawfully. RTB allowed them to do so.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
Is Google evil? Considering that the company quite literally removed the “don’t be evil” clause from its code of conduct back in 2018, I’ll let you answer that question in your own time.
Whether or not Google is evil is up for debate. However, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that Google is far too powerful. This power has allowed the multinational tech giant to act with a great degree of impunity, selling our data to thousands of bidders with unimaginably deep pockets.
So one wonders, what, if anything, can be done?
On May 19, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation that seeks to break up Google’s digital advertising business. As The Hill’s Chris Mills Rodrigo noted, if the senators’ collective push ends in triumph, Google would be left with a Sophie’s choice of sorts, having “to choose between operating an ad exchange or a supply- or demand-side platform.”
The measure, according to The Wall Street Journal, would specifically target companies that make more than $20 billion each year from ad-related transactions. This includes the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, and of course, Google. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, generates $54 billion per quarter in revenue from advertisements alone.
No doubt, Google will fight hard to maintain its RTB revenue stream. Let’s hope, for the sake of us everyone, the senators’ attempt to rein in Google proves to be a roaring success. Unwanted location-tracking and data-sharing need to stop—and it needs to stop now.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.