Blatant abuse of people's private data has become firmly entrenched in the economic model of the free internet ever since Google recognised the value of analysing what people are searching for.
Now vast swathes of the internet are handsomely
funded by the exploitation of people's personal data. But that deep entrenchment clearly makes the issue a bit difficult to put right without bankrupting half of the internet that has come to rely on the process.
The EU hasn't helped with its
ludicrous idea of focusing its laws on companies having to obtain people's consent to have their data exploited. A more practical lawmaker would have simply banned the abuse of personal data without bothering with the silly consent games. But the EU
seems prone to being lobbied and does not often come up with the most obvious solution.
Anyway enforcement of the EU's law is certainly causing issues for the internet censors at the UK's ICO.
The ICO warned the adtech industry 6 months ago
that its approach is illegal and has now announced that it would not be taking any action against the data abuse yet, as the industry has made a few noises about improving a bit over the coming months.
Simon McDougall, ICO Executive Director of
Technology and Innovation has written:
The adtech real time bidding (RTB) industry is complex, involving thousands of companies in the UK alone. Many different actors and service providers sit between the advertisers
buying online advertising space, and the publishers selling it.
There is a significant lack of transparency due to the nature of the supply chain and the role different actors play. Our June 2019 report identified a range of
issues. We are confident that any organisation that has not properly addressed these issues risks operating in breach of data protection law.
This is a systemic problem that requires organisations to take ownership for their own
data processing, and for industry to collectively reform RTB. We gave industry six months to work on the points we raised, and offered to continue to engage with stakeholders. Two key organisations in the industry are starting to make the changes needed.
The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) UK has agreed a range of principles that align with our concerns, and is developing its own guidance for organisations on security, data minimisation, and data retention, as well as UK-focused
guidance on the content taxonomy. It will also educate the industry on special category data and cookie requirements, and continue work on some specific areas of detail. We will continue to engage with IAB UK to ensure these proposals are executed in a
Separately, Google will remove content categories, and improve its process for auditing counterparties. It has also recently proposed improvements to its Chrome browser, including phasing out support for third party
cookies within the next two years. We are encouraged by this, and will continue to look at the changes Google has proposed.
Finally, we have also received commitments from other UK advertising trade bodies to produce guidance for
If these measures are fully implemented they will result in real improvements to the handling of personal data within the adtech industry. We will continue to engage with industry where we think engagement will
deliver the most effective outcome for data subjects.
Comment: Data regulator ICO fails to enforce the law
Responding to ICO's announcement today that the regulator is taking minimal steps to enforce the law against massive data breaches taking place in the online ad industry through Real-Time Bidding, complainants Jim Killock and Michael Veale have
called on the regulator to enforce the law.
The complainants are considering taking legal action against the regulator. Legal action could be taken against the ICO for failure to enforce, or against the companies themselves for
their breaches of Data Protection law.
The Real-Time Bidding data breach at the heart of RTB market exposes every person in the UK to mass profiling, and the attendant risks of manipulation and discrimination.
As the evidence submitted by the complainants notes, the real-time bidding systems designed by Google and the IAB broadcast what virtually all Internet users read, watch, and listen to online to thousands of companies, without
protection of the data once broadcast. Now, sixteen months after the initial complaint, the ICO has failed to act.
Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group said:
The ICO is a
regulator, so needs to enforce the law. It appears to be accepting that unlawful and dangerous sharing of personal data can continue, so long as 'improvements' are gradually made, with no actual date for compliance.
Last year the
ICO gave a deadline for an industry response to our complaints. Now the ICO is falling into the trap set by industry, of accepting incremental but minimal changes that fail to deliver individuals the control of their personal data that they are legally
The ICO must take enforcement action against IAB members.
We are considering our position, including whether to take legal action against the regulator for failing to act, or individual
companies for their breach of data protection law.
Dr Michael Veale said:
When an industry is premised and profiting from clear and entrenched illegality that breach individuals'
fundamental rights, engagement is not a suitable remedy. The ICO cannot continue to look back at its past precedents for enforcement action, because it is exactly that timid approach that has led us to where we are now.
Ravi Naik, solicitor acting for the complainants, said:
There is no dispute about the underlying illiegality at the heart of RTB that our clients have complained about. The ICO have agreed with
those concerns yet the companies have not taken adequate steps to address those conerns. Nevertheless, the ICO has failed to take direct enforcement action needed to remedy these breaches.
Regulatory ambivalence cannot continue.
The ICO is not a silo but is subject to judicial oversight. Indeed, the ICO's failure to act raises a question about the adequacy of the UK Data Protection Act. Is there proper judicial oversight of the ICO? This is a critical question after Brexit, when
the UK needs to agree data transfer arrangements with the EU that cover all industries.
Dr. Johnny Ryan of Brave said:
The RTB system broadcasts what everyone is reading and
watching online, hundreds of billions of times a day, to thousands of companies. It is by far the largest data breach ever recorded. The risks are profound. Brave will support ORG to ensure that the ICO discharges its responsibilities.
Jim Killock and Michael Veale complained about the Adtech industry and Real Time Bidding to the UK's ICO in September 2018. Johnny Ryan of Brave submitted a parallel complaint against Google about their Adtech system to the Irish Data
Google is to restrict web pages from loading 3rd party profiling cookies when accessed via its Chrome browser. Many large websites, eg major newspapers make a call to hundreds of 3rd part profilers to allow them to build up a profile of people's browsing
history, which then facilitates personalised advertising.
Now Google has said that it will block these third-party cookies within the next two years.
Tracking cookies are very much in the sights of the EU who are trying to put an end to the
exploitative practise. However the EU is not willing to actually ban such practises, but instead has invented a silly game about websites obtaining consent for tracking cookies.
The issue is of course that a lot of 'free' access websites are
funded by advertising and rely on the revenue from the targeted advertising. I have read estimates that if websites were to drop personalised ads, and fall back on contextual advertising (eg advertising cars on motoring pages), then they would lose about
a third of their income. Surely a fall that magnitude would lead to many bankrupt or unviable websites.
Now the final position of the EU's cookie consent game is that a website would have to present two easy options before allowing access to a
Do you want to allow tracking cookies to build up a database of your browsing history
Do you NOT want to allow tracking cookies to build up a database of your browsing history
The simple outcome will be that virtually no one will opt for tracking, so the website will lose a third of its income. So it is rather unsurprising that websites would rather avoid offering such an easy option that would deprive them of so much of
In reality the notion of consent it not practical. It would be more honest to think of the use of tracking cookies as a price for 'free' access to a website.
Perhaps when the dust has settled, a more honest and practical
endgame would bea choice more like:
Do you want to allow tracking cookies to build up a database of your browsing history in return for 'free' access
Do you want to pay a fee to enable access to the website without tracking cookies
Sorry you may not access this
The EU has been complaining about companies trying to avoid the revenue destroying official consent options. A study just published observes that nearly all cookie consent pop-ups are flouting EU privacy laws.
Researchers at the Massachusetts
Despite EU privacy laws stating that consent for cookies must be informed, specific and freely given, the research suggests that only 12% of the sites met the minimal requirements of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) law. Instead
they were found to blanket data consent options in complicated site design, such as:
pre-ticked boxes burying decline buttons on later pages multiple clicks tracking users before consent and after pressing reject
Just over half the sites studied did not have rejecting all tracking as an option.
Of the sites which
did, only 13% made it accessible through the same or fewer clicks as the option to accept all.
The researchers estimate it would take, on average, more than half an hour to read through what the third-party companies are doing with your data, and even longer to read all their privacy policies. It's a joke and there's no actual way you could do
this realistically, said Dr Veale.
Cyber-security researchers claim that highly sensitive personal details about thousands of porn stars have been exposed online by an adult website.
They told BBC News they had found an open folder on PussyCash's Amazon web server that contained
However the live webcam porn network, which owns the brand ImLive and other adult websites, said there was no evidence anyone else had accessed the folder. And it had it removed public access as soon as it had been told of the leak.
The researchers are from vpnMentor, which is a VPN comparison site. vpnMentor said in a blog anyone with the right link could have accessed 19.95GB of data dating back over 15 years as well as from the past few weeks, including contracts revealing more
than 4,000 models' including
full name address social-security number date of birth phone number height weight hips, bust and waist measurements piercings tattoos scars The files also revealed scans or photographs of their passport
driving licence credit card birth certificate.
Privacy International and over 50 other organisations have submitted a letter to Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai asking Google to take action against exploitative pre-installed software on Android devices.
Dear Mr. Pichai,
We, the undersigned, agree with you: privacy cannot be a luxury offered only to those people who can afford it.
And yet, Android Partners - who use the Android trademark and branding - are manufacturing
devices that contain pre-installed apps that cannot be deleted (often known as "bloatware"), which can leave users vulnerable to their data being collected, shared and exposed without their knowledge or consent.
These pre-installed apps can have privileged custom permissions that let them operate outside the Android security model. This means permissions can be defined by the app - including access to the microphone,
camera and location - without triggering the standard Android security prompts. Users are therefore completely in the dark about these serious intrusions.
We are concerned that this leaves users vulnerable to the exploitative
business practices of cheap smartphone manufacturers around the world.
The changes we believe are needed most urgently are as follows:
Individuals should be able to permanently uninstall the apps on their phones. This should include any related background services that continue to run even if the apps are disabled.
should adhere to the same scrutiny as Play Store apps, especially in relation to custom permissions.
Pre-installed apps should have some update mechanism, preferably through Google Play and without a user account. Google
should refuse to certify a device on privacy grounds, where manufacturers or vendors have attempted to exploit users in this way.
We, the undersigned, believe these fair and reasonable changes would make a huge difference to millions of people around the world who should not have to trade their privacy and security for access to a smartphone.
We urge you to use your position as an influential agent in the ecosystem to protect people and stop manufacturers from exploiting them in a race to the bottom on the pricing of smartphones.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Association for Technology and Internet (ApTI)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Australian Privacy Foundation
Center for Digital Democracy
Centre for Intellectual Property and Information
Technology Law (CIPIT)
Civil Liberties Union for Europe
Consumer Association the Quality of Life-EKPIZO
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF)
Douwe Korff, Emeritus Professor of International Law, London Metropolitan University and Associate of the Oxford Martin School,
University of Oxford
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Forbrukerrĺdet // Norwegian Consumer Council
Foundation for Media
Free Media Movement (FMM)
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Initiative for Freedom of Expression- Turkey (IFox)
Irish Council for Civil Liberties
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Policy and Democracy Project (University of Johannesburg)
Policy Institute (MPI)
Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society
Open Rights Group (ORG)
Palestinian Center For
Development & Media Freedoms (MADA)
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D)
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression
The Danish Consumer Council
The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM)
A new California law has come into effect that seems to have been inspired by the EU's box ticking nighmare, the GDPR. It give's Californians rights in determining how their data is used by large internet companies.
The law gives consumers the right
to know about the personal data that companies have collected about them, to demand that it be deleted, and to prevent it from being sold to third parties.
Although privacy controls only are required for Californians it seems likely that large
companies will provide the same controls to all Americans.
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will only apply to businesses that earn more than $25 million in gross revenue, that collect data on more than 50,000 people, or for which selling
consumer data accounts for more than 50% of revenue.
In early December, Twitter rolled out a privacy center where users can learn more about the company's approach to the CCPA and navigate to a dashboard for customizing the types of info that the
platform is allowed to use for ad targeting. Google has also created a protocol that blocks websites from transmitting data to the company. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that it does not need to change anything because it does not technically sell
personal information. Companies must at least set up a webpage and a toll-free phone number for fielding data requests.
The personal data covered by the CCPA includes IP addresses, contact info, internet browsing history, biometrics (like facial
recognition and fingerprint data), race, gender, purchasing behavior, and locations.
Many sections of the law are quite vague and awaiting further clarification in the final draft regulations, which the California attorney general's office is
expected to release later in 2020.