Data about every internet user is shared hundreds of times a day as companies compete for advertising slots online, report says.
According to research by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the average European user’s data is shared 376 times a day.
According to the report, this figure increases to 747 times per day for US-based users.
Most internet services are free due to revenue generated from digital advertisements.
The ICCL is currently suing the digital advertising industry and the Data Protection Commission for what it calls an epic data breach, saying no one ever expressly consented to the practice.
Data is shared between brokers acting on behalf of those wishing to place ads, in real time, as a web page loads in front of someone reading it. Trademarks in the advertisements themselves are not involved.
It includes information about the device on which the page is loading, details about the location of that device, and other information such as previously visited websites and their topic.
It is used to ensure that the most relevant bidder receives the ad space on the page.
It all happens automatically and in a split second, and it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.
Although no personally identifiable information is included, activists argue that the volume of data is still a breach of privacy.
“Every day the RTB [Real Time Bidding] the industry tracks what you watch, whether private or sensitive, and records where you go. This is the largest data breach ever recorded. And it repeats itself every day,” said ICCL principal investigator Dr. Johnny Ryan.
The figures in the ICCL report do not include figures from two advertising revenue giants – Meta (which owns Facebook) and Amazon.
It indicates that the source of the data was a Google feed covering a 30-day period. It is made available to industry, but not to the public.