Data brokers typically collect a wide range of personal data, which is supposed to be anonymized. However, the sheer volume and specificity of the data collected have made it increasingly easy for buyers to identify individuals. This includes information about location, lifestyle, and even detailed occupation data, undermining the supposed anonymity of such information.
A recent report has raised alarming concerns about the extent of sensitive personal information being sold by data brokers. This data, often gathered from internet browsing history and app usage, is more detailed than previously understood, allowing buyers to potentially identify specific individuals, including those in sensitive professions like military and national security roles.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) has conducted an investigation revealing the widespread trade of data concerning sensitive European personnel and leaders, putting them at risk of blackmail, hacking, and other forms of compromise. This trade in sensitive data includes judges, elected officials, military personnel, and decision-makers in national security, which flows to foreign states and non-state actors through online advertising’s Real-Time Bidding (RTB) system.
Alarmingly, RTB data, primarily intended for ad targeting, can be exploited for more nefarious purposes. Reports indicate that this data is being sent to countries like Russia and China, where national laws allow security agencies to access it. This information can be used to spy on individuals, revealing their financial problems, mental state, and intimate secrets, even when secure devices are used.
These findings underscore the urgent need for stricter regulations and oversight on the operations of data brokers. The sale of such sensitive information not only poses a risk to individuals’ privacy but also represents a significant threat to national security and the integrity of key institutions.