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Many People Are Concerned About Facebook. Any Other Tech Companies Pose Privacy Threats?

The massive data breach involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica focused attention and privacy concerns on the social networking giant. Reports about extensive tracking of users and non-users, testimony by its CEO before the U.S. Congress, and online tools allegedly allowing advertisers to violate federal housing laws have also focused attention on Facebook.

Are there any other tech or advertising companies which consumers should have privacy concerns about?  What other companies collect massive amounts of information about consumers? It seems wise to look beyond Facebook in to avoid missing significant threats.

Google logo To answer these questions, the Wall Street Journal compared Facebook and Google:

"... Alphabet Inc.’s Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps... It’s likely that Google has shadow profiles on at least as many people as Facebook does, says Chandler Givens, chief executive of TrackOff, which develops software to fight identity theft. Google allows everyone, whether they have a Google account or not, to opt out of its ad targeting. Yet, like Facebook, it continues to gather your data... Google Analytics is far and away the web’s most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the U.S., it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in... Google uses, among other things, our browsing and search history, apps we’ve installed, demographics such as age and gender and, from its own analytics and other sources, where we’ve shopped in the real world. Google says it doesn’t use information from “sensitive categories” such as race, religion, sexual orientation or health..."

There's plenty more, so read the entire WSJ article. A good review worthy of further discussion.

However, more companies pose privacy threats. Equifax, one of three major credit reporting agencies, easily makes my list. Its massive data breach affected half the population in the USA, plus persons worldwide. An investigation discovered several data security failures at Equifax.

Also on my list would be the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Using some  "light touch" legal ju-jitsu and vague promises of enabling infrastructure investments, the Republican-majority Commissioners and Trump appointee Ajit Pai at the FCC revoked broadband privacy protections for consumers last year... and punted broadband oversight responsibility to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This allowed corporate internet service providers (ISPs) to freely track and collect sensitive data about internet users without requiring notices nor opt-out mechanisms.

Uber logo Uber also makes my list, given its massive data breach affecting 57 million persons. Earlier this month, the FTC announced a revised settlement agreement where Uber:

"... failed to disclose a significant breach of consumer data that occurred in 2016 -- in the midst of the FTC’s investigation that led to the August 2017 settlement announcement... the revised settlement could subject Uber to civil penalties if it fails to notify the FTC of certain future incidents involving unauthorized access of consumer information... In announcing the original proposed settlement with Uber in August 2017, the FTC charged that the company had failed to live up to its claims that it closely monitored employee access to rider and driver data and that it deployed reasonable measures to secure personal information stored on a third-party cloud provider’s servers.

In the revised complaint, the FTC alleges that Uber learned in November 2016 that intruders had again accessed consumer data the company stored on its third-party cloud provider’s servers by using an access key an Uber engineer had posted on a code-sharing website... the intruders used the access key to download from Uber’s cloud storage unencrypted files that contained more than 25 million names and email addresses, 22 million names and mobile phone numbers, and 600,000 names and driver’s license numbers of U.S. Uber drivers and riders... Uber paid the intruders $100,000 through its third-party “bug bounty” program and failed to disclose the breach to consumers or the Commission until November 2017... the new provisions in the revised proposed order include requirements for Uber to submit to the Commission all the reports from the required third-party audits of Uber’s privacy program rather than only the initial such report..."

Yes, Wells Fargo bank makes my list, too. This blog post explains why. Who is on your list of the biggest privacy threats to consumers?


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Chanson de Roland

The biggest privacy threat to consumers’ privacy is not one Internet firm, whether it be social media or search or some other manifestation or instance of what they all have in common. What’s that? It is their common revenue model of collecting, without a fair bargain or meaningful consent, the information that their customers/users (Users) create as they use the websites and various other modalities of the Internet, which those Internet firms then either directly or indirectly trade to make their often fabulous profits. That revenue model is what has made Facebook and Google among the richest corporations now and to have ever existed; it is that business model that creates the modern data aggregators and brokers; it is that business model which has spawned the technologies that track us across all of our devices across all of the Internet; and it is the revenue model which is the impetus and source of profit for the Internet of Things (IoT), and it will be that revenue model that will have self driving cars tracking where we go and what we do as we go.

So focusing just on Facebook, no matter how egregious its breach of our privacy has been, misses the complete picture of the full wrong and pervasive danger, because the privacy-destroying business model that animates the online firms which pervasively breach of our privacy has myriad instances, from large, such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, to relatively small, such as a data broker or an ad network. But they all spring from the same source, which is the revenue model of misappropriating our information in exchange for their goods and/or services, which they then trade for their profit.

Castigating Facebook is only just and useful to the extent that doing so remedies the Internet’s perverted revenue model of exchanging our information, in a bargain where we have no bargaining power and give no meaningful consent, in exchange for goods and services on offer on the Internet or often for next to nothing, as third parties track us and collect our information as we visit websites where those third parties have no privity with us and offer nothing to us for our information.

Facebook is just one scoundrel, whereas the problem is the way that Facebook and all of the others make their money.


Well said by Roland. It's all about the business model.


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