back to article Gripe to UK, Ireland, Poland: Ad tech industry inhales, then 'leaks' sensitive info on our health, politics, religion

A series of challenges to the practices used by the likes of Google in online behavioural advertising have been filed in the UK, Ireland and Poland, alleging that information slurped up on internet users is not only "highly intimate" but also improperly protected. The ad tech industry is responsible for "systemic" breaches of …

  1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Ads? What ads?

    If we found ads on any of our platforms that were violating our policies and attempting to use sensitive interest categories to target ads to users, we would take immediate action.

    .. But we're not looking, so all is well. Please discontinue any frivolous litigation and let nice, cuddly Alphabet carry on peddling user's personal data to all and sundry.

    I'm also thinking it's one of the 21st Century's wonderful business innovations. Ad slingers can bid to attract our eyeballs in real-time. Our eyes however are blind to the auction process. It could be fun if we were allowed to set the price for our attention, or just set preferences. Today I'm interested in pizza, tomorrow, diet plans.. This is still the biggest problem with online advertising. Most of it is totally irrelevant for me, thus annoying, thus ad blockers.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Most of it is totally irrelevant

      It would be MORE worrying if most was relevant, or worse I was able to be convinced it was.

      I'd hope Adverts would stay as stupidly random as they are. Just like on Broadcast TV, newspapers billboards, magazines and radio.

      BTW do kill SambaTV and block various domains if you have an Android TV AKA Smart TV. A Smart TV will send discs watched (if you are playing via HDMI), broadcasts watched, web sites browsed, streaming consumed etc. Often to maker, SambaTV and Google.

      1. A.P. Veening

        Re: Most of it is totally irrelevant

        Th real problem is that most adverts are stupidly irrelevant, mostly for things I just bought and am not likely to need to replace for another year or more. This means they are smart enough to track me, but not smart enough to consider the true relevancy of the advert (negative).

  2. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    A Google Spokesman

    I remember when it was Big Tobacco or Halliburton.

    1) The idea of targetted adverts is probably Google & Facebook snake oil to divert budgets from billboards, TV, magazines, newspaper and radio.

    2) Whether the personalisation or not works, all the data gathering is illegal and may have been so before GDPR. Fines used to be so small it wasn't worth prosecuting.

    3) It's OK to sell adverts on websites. It's not OK to harvest any of people's usage to claim to do it better. Loyalty & Credit card usage is also being added. It's toxic and an abuse of human rights. It would be even worse for the public if it actually really worked.

    4) It's very bad for the ultimate product and service companies buy adverts as the effectiveness of the illegal process isn't proven and often clicks are fraudulent, or in some cases they are lied to as to how many regular users a service has or how many videos are watched. This isn't libel because Facebook has admitted massive inflation of video figures and click fraud is well documented. Google and site owners benefit. Advertisers lose out.

    1. devTrail

      Re: A Google Spokesman

      If I understood correctly the article it is even worse than that. The data is provided before the ad is purchased and the ad itself might be irrelevant, the client buys the information and buys the ad only as a mean to pay for the information, then if the user looks at the ad or not it's just a little bit more, but the real trade was already done.

      1. The Nazz Silver badge

        Re: A Google Spokesman

        Is it worse than that?

        Presumably, ALL the potential bidders for ad slots get to see all the information whether or not they are the successful bidders. Winning strategy, bid cheap and get loads of lovely data anyway.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "prohibit advertisers [...] from targeting individuals on the basis of sensitive categories"

      She said they prohibit "targeting individuals", not that they do not collect, use or transmit such information... or that you can't target "groups" instead of "individuals".... all those PR people are trained to use specific words - just like lawyers - and the real meaning could be different from what it looks at first sight.

      1. Gonzo wizard
        FAIL

        Re: "prohibit advertisers [...] from targeting individuals on the basis of sensitive categories"

        I can hear the defence lawyer now: "My client targeted a group. It is unreasonable to prosecute him because the group happened to only have one member."

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "we would take immediate action...."

    ... by charging more for the data.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Actually I thought the action to be taken would be "tell the outfit to hide their activities better".

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Yeah, the Google response seem to be saying "yeah, we send that data to them but we ask them not use it"

  4. The C Man

    Medical records

    Back in 2017 Google was given access to NHS records of more than 1.5 million in the UK. I have no doubt those records were eventually removed from Google's servers but while they were there they could have in part been disseminated to others. I wonder how many other health organisations gave access to patient records. Was the new app created? If so was it being created by Google or an external company Google would have no control over? Even worse was Google's later take over of DeepMind which seemingly gave access to more records. Even if Google had access to the records for a few seconds before being rescinded it could have gathered the information from millions of them. Google operates some of the most advanced and fast computers in the world.

    https://goo.gl/uFCLAA was an early report and one of the latest is at https://goo.gl/ojKPe1

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: no doubt those records were eventually removed

      Why?

  5. Herring` Silver badge

    I don't know why the big tech companies have such a hard time understanding GDPR. Even managers can grasp the fundamentals.

    1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
      Flame

      I don't know why the big tech companies have such a hard time understanding GDPR.

      It's no different to the tobacco companies fighting tooth and nail against the truth that they just peddle a slow death to their customers.

      Francky I am in two minds which is more damaging to society, deliberately killing people with cancer or permanently screwing up democracy via the social media cesspit.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: I don't know why the big tech companies have such a hard time understanding GDPR.

        Francky I am in two minds which is more damaging to society, deliberately killing people with cancer or permanently screwing up democracy via the social media cesspit.

        It's not social media that is the problem per se, it's the adverts that SM providers sling to their users, often disguised as legitimate content (FB I'm looking at you), and of a political nature, which are closely targeted to be shown only to the people they are most likley to affect. It's the slow drip-drip of poison into people's ears that leds to them believing things that are not true, but not realising why they believe them. This sort of advert is much more effective than the "you just bought a vacuum cleaner, here are ads for more vacuum cleaners" type.

        The simple solution would be to ban all targeted advertising. There would be no need to collect all that profiling data, hence no danger of potentially leaking protected information.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      "I don't know why the big tech companies have such a hard time understanding GDPR. Even managers can grasp the fundamentals."

      They understand it just fine. They are ignoring it, in the same way as plenty of people speed on roads every day. For globo-mega-corp, GDPR is like speed limits.

  6. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Perhaps a Tech News journalist...

    Perhaps a journalist working in the Tech News field could setup an advertising account to enable them to participate in these Real Time Bidding auctions, for the true purpose of gathering personal data on web-surfing members of the public.

    For bonus points: Specifically targeting certain political and industry leaders.

    If even moderately successful, it could be highly effective.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Perhaps a Tech News journalist...

      I think that's more a job for well funded researchers. AFAIK the process isn't 'transparent', ie Google pops up an auction for J.Eel Esq's eyeballs for the next 30s. It's more like a person's looking at these webpages, would you like to sell more? The data exchanged is pseudo-anonymous, ie IDs, but the risk is with all the tracking cookies and persistent crud, eventually you end up with enough data linked to a UID to personally identity an individual. Which is the usual problem with trying to anonymise bulk data. The more you have, the easier it is to narrow it down and de-anonymise it.

      Personally I think individuals need to be taken out of the loop and ads simply tailored to the ad space, ie El Reg has a specific target audience, so serve ads based on that typical profile. It never ceases to amaze me that content owners have virtually no control over the kinds of ads attached.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Adverts are evil

    Which is why we all run with adblockers, content blockers and noscript.

    Sorry if your business model is based on ads, but you did yourselves no favours. As a long-term lurker here, I'd welcome an ad-free subscription.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Adverts are evil

      They are selling our data so why aren't we getting paid? I'd be OK with advertising if, every time an advert popped up in front of me, 1p ended up in my bank account.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Adverts are evil

        They are selling our data so why aren't we getting paid?

        Which is my standard response to the (annoying) phone calls asking whether I want to participate in a survey (the few I answer anyway):

        "How much are you paying me for participating?"

        If they try to flannel about me getting added into a competition to win an iPad (seeming the favourite prize - presumably one of the managers at the marketing company has an old one they want to get shot of) then my standard response is "give me the iPad and I'll give you the info".

        The number of marketing survey calls I get has declined dramatically since I started doing that - maybe I'm on a blacklist somewhere.

  8. adam payne Silver badge

    "We have strict policies that prohibit advertisers on our platforms from targeting individuals on the basis of sensitive categories such as race, sexual orientation, health conditions, pregnancy status, etc. If we found ads on any of our platforms that were violating our policies and attempting to use sensitive interest categories to target ads to users, we would take immediate action."

    You have strict policies that prohibit ad slingers from targeting individuals?!? OK, but why would your policies and setup make it possible for it to happen in the first place?

    What action would you take Google?

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      I read that as the advertisers being allowed to target individuals, but not on those criteria. It doesn't say they're not letting the advertisers have that information (in fact it's implying that they do), which they can then use for any other purpose, such as profiling people into groups that they then target. Presumably, such groups could contain a single individual (although they're more likely to contain a number of individuals that the advertisers have deemed to have equivalent tastes / beliefs / whatever).

      Never underestimate exactly how much of a bunch of slippery bastards marketeers are. In my experience, most of them bear all the hallmarks of high-functioning psychopaths.

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