WSJ Graphical Roadmap: How Your Personal Information Migrates from App, to Broker, to the Government
A report in The Wall Street Journal does a masterful job of combining graphics and text to illustrate how technology embedded in our phones and computers to serve up ads also enables government surveillance of the American citizenry.
The WSJ has identified and mapped out a network of brokers and advertising exchanges whose data flows from apps to Defense Department, intelligence agencies, and the FBI. The WSJ has compiled this information into several illustrative animated graphs that bring the whole scheme to life.
Here’s how it works: As soon as you open an ad-supported app on your phone, data from your device is recorded and transmitted to buyers. The moment before an app serves you an ad, all advertisers in the bidding process are given access to information about your device. The first information up for bids is your location, IP address, device, and browser type. Ad services also record information about your interests and develop intricate assumptions about you.
Many data brokers regularly sell Americans’ information to the government, where it may be used for cybersecurity, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and public safety – or whatever a federal agency deems as such.
Polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about their digital privacy but are also fatalistic and unaware about their privacy options as consumers.
According to a recent poll by Pew published last month, 81 percent of U.S. adults are concerned about how companies use the data they collect. Seventy-one percent are concerned about how the government uses their data, up from 64 percent in 2019. There is also an increasing feeling of helplessness: 73 percent of adults say they have little to no control over what companies do with their data, while 79 percent feel the same towards the government. The number of concerned Americans rises to 89 percent when the issue of children’s online privacy is polled. Crucially, 72 percent of Americans believe there should be more regulation governing the use of digital data.
There is good news. In the struggle for government surveillance reform currently taking place on Capitol Hill – and the introduction of the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act – Americans are getting a better understanding of the costs of being treated as digital chattel by data brokers and government.