ICCL: ‘User data is shared 376 times a day’

ICCL: ‘User data is shared 376 times a day’

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) is sounding the alarm. According to the civil rights movement, data about European users is shared 376 times a day with data traders. And that’s still a conservative estimate. The group speaks of “the biggest data breach” that takes place every day.

This is stated in a report drawn up by the ICCL.

This is how Google’s RTB system works

Google is the largest company that trades advertising space on a daily basis. A virtual auction takes place every moment of the day. The advertiser who is willing to pay the highest price per click and has a quality landing page wins the auction. This auction is held per keyword and per website. That process is fully automated and takes place in a fraction of a second. We call this process Real-Time Bidding, or RTB for short.

The report of the civil rights movement deals with this topic. This technology does its job behind the scenes of websites and applications. It keeps track of exactly which sites internet users visit, what searches they use, how long they stay on a page, and so on.

Such information is very valuable to advertisers and ad network operators. They use this data to create user profiles. By combining this data with other data sources, they are able to offer tailor-made, personalized advertisements. The conversion rate, the number of people who actually buy a recommended product or service, is a lot higher with person-oriented advertisements.

Data from Dutch people is sent 380 times a day

RTB ensures that an immense flow of data takes place between a large number of companies every day. And all to finish in first place in the virtual auction for advertising space. The ICCL has tried to map the size of RTB.

In Europe, the location data of internet users is shared 197 billion times a day. Web activity data and personal data are shared with data traders an average of 376 times a day.

In the US, these numbers are much higher. There, location data is shared 294 billion times a day, and online activities are 747 times. In the Netherlands, it is estimated that this happens on average 380 times a day.

Numbers are on the low side

Google is the largest company using RTB to sell advertising space. That is not surprising since the search engine giant has devised the virtual auction. In Europe, 1,058 companies receive RTB data from Google every day. In the US there are 4,698.

The data generated by the RTB auction is sent all over the world, including to companies in Russia and China. And we have no way of controlling what happens to our data, the ICCL emphasizes. The RTB industry generated more than $91 billion in the US and €23 billion in Europe in 2021, according to the organization.

The figures quoted by the ICCL are probably still on the low side. The study only looked at data trading that runs through Google’s systems. Advertising companies Amazon and Meta – the parent company of Facebook – were not taken into account by the researchers.

Email addresses are secretly collected

Researchers from Radboud University, KU Leuven and the University of Lausanne came up with a shocking development last week. They found that advertisers and ad network operators collect email addresses from visitors even before they hit the Submit button.

Basically, data collectors look over the shoulder of visitors from the very first moment they visit a site. People who are considering signing up for a newsletter and already filling in their email address but not yet sending are already out of the loop. Their email address is already forwarded to a tracking network at that time.

According to lead researcher Asuman Senol, these are websites that attract millions of visitors. Her team found 1,850 websites that forward data from European visitors to tracking companies. 2,950 sites do that for US users. This mainly concerns foreign sites, but they can of course also be visited by Dutch people. Website owners and publishers are often not even aware of these practices.

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