Crypto Currency

Personal Data Collection: The Complete Wired Guide

staying in and watching a movie, generate mountains of information, treasure to be scooped up later by businesses of all kinds.Personal data is often compared to oil—it powers today’s most profitable corporations, just like fossil fuels energized those of the past. But the consumers it’s extracted from often know little about how much of their…


staying in and watching a movie, generate mountains of information, treasure to be scooped up later by businesses of all kinds.

Personal data is often compared to oil—it powers today’s most profitable corporations, just like fossil fuels energized those of the past. But the consumers it’s extracted from often know little about how much of their information is collected, who gets to look at it, and what it’s worth. Every day, hundreds of companies you may not even know exist gather facts about you, some more intimate than others. That information may then flow to academic researchers, hackers, law enforcement, and foreign nations—as well as plenty of companies trying to sell you stuff.

What Constitutes “Personal Data”?

The internet might seem like one big privacy nightmare, but don’t throw your smartphone out the window just yet. “Personal data” is a pretty vague umbrella term, and it helps to unpack exactly what it means. Health records, social security numbers, and banking details make up the most sensitive information stored online. Social media posts, location data, and search-engine queries may also be revealing but are also typically monetized in a way that, say, your credit card number is not. Other kinds of data collection fall into separate categories—ones that may surprise you. Did you know some companies are analyzing the unique way you tap and fumble with your smartphone?

All this information is collected on a wide spectrum of consent: Sometimes the data is forked over knowingly, while in other scenarios users might not understand they’re giving up anything at all. Often, it’s clearsomethingis being collected, but the specifics are hidden from view or buried in hard-to-parse terms-of-service agreements.

Consider what happens when someone sends a vial of saliva to 23andme. The person knows they’re sharing their DNA with a genomics company, but they may not realize it will be resold to pharmaceutical firms. Many apps use your location to serve up custom advertisements, but they don’t necessarily make it clear that a hedge fund may also buy that location data to analyze which retail stores you frequent. Anyone who has witnessed the same shoe advertisement follow them around the web knows they’re being tracked, but fewer people likely understand that companies may be recording not just their clicks but also the exact movements of their mouse.

In each of these scenarios, the user received something in return for allowing a corporation to monetize their data. They got to learn about their genetic ancestry, use a mobile app, or browse the latest footwear trends from the comfort of their computer. This is the same sort of bargain Facebook and Google offer. Their core products, including Instagram, Messenger, Gmail, and Google Maps, don’t cost money. You pay with your personal data, which is used to target you with ads.

Who Buys, Sells, and Barters My Personal Data?

The trade-off between the data you give and the services you get may or may not be worth it, but another breed of business amasses, analyzes, and sells your information without giving you anything at all: data brokers. These firms compile info from publicly available sources like property records, marriage licenses, and court cases. They may also gather your medical records, browsing history, social media connections, and online purchases. Depending on where you live, data brokers might even purchase your information from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Don’t have a driver’s license? Retail stores sell info to data brokers, too.

The information data brokers collect may be inaccurate or out of date. Still, it can be incredibly valuable to corporations, marketers, investors, and individuals. In fact, American companies alone are estimated to have spent over $19 billion in 2018 acquiring and analyzing consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

Data brokers are also valuable resources for abusers and stalkers. Doxing, the practice of publicly releasing someone’s personal information without their consent, is often made possible because of data brokers. While you can delete your Facebook account relatively easily, getting these firms to remove your information is time-consuming, complicated, and sometimes impossible. In fact, the process is so burdensome that you can pay a service to do it on your behalf.

Amassing and selling your data like this is perfectly legal. While some states, including California and Vermont, have recently moved to put more restrictions on data brokers, they remain largely unregulated. The Fair Credit Reporting Act dictates how information collected for credit, employment, and insurance reasons may be used, but some data brokers have been caught skirting the law. In 2012 the “person lookup” site Spokeo settled with the FTC for $800,000 over charges that it violated the FCRA by advertising its products for purposes like job background checks. And data brokers that market themselves as being more akin to digital phone books don’t have to abide by the regulation in the first place.

There are also few laws governing how social media companies may collect data about their users. In the United States, no modern federal privacy regulation exists, and the government can even legally request digital data held by companies without a warrant in many circumstances (though the Supreme Court recently expanded Fourth Amendment protections to a narrow type of location data).

The good news is, the information you share online does contribute to the global store of useful knowledge: Researchers from a number of academic disciplines study social media posts and other user-generated data to learn more about humanity. In his book,Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are,Seth Stephens-Davidowitz argues there are many scenarios where humans are more honest with sites like Google than they are on traditional surveys. For example, he says, fewer than 20 percent of people admit they watch porn, but there are more Google searches for “porn” than “weather.”

Personal data is also used by artificial intelligence researchers to train their automated programs. Every day, users around the globe upload billions of photos, videos, text posts, and audio clips to sites like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. That media is then fed to machine learning algorithms, so they

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Crypto Currency

San Francisco Bans Agency Use of Facial Recognition Tech

facial recognition by city agencies, a first-of-its-kind measure that has inspired similar efforts elsewhere.Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.San Francisco’s ban covers government agencies, including the city police and county sheriff’s department, but doesn’t affect the technology that unlocks your iPhone or cameras installed by businesses or individuals. It’s part of…

facial recognition by city agencies, a first-of-its-kind measure that has inspired similar efforts elsewhere.

Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.

San Francisco’s ban covers government agencies, including the city police and county sheriff’s department, but doesn’t affect the technology that unlocks your iPhone or cameras installed by businesses or individuals. It’s part of a broader package of rules, introduced in January by supervisor Aaron Peskin, that will require agencies to gain approval from the board before purchasing surveillance tech and will require that they publicly disclose its intended use. In coming weeks, Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts, are expected to consider facial-recognition bans of their own.

Facial-recognition technology has been used by law enforcement to spot fraud and identify suspects, but critics say that recent advances in AI have transformed the technology into a dangerous tool that enables real-time surveillance. Studies by researchers at MIT and Georgetown have found that the technology is less accurate at identifying people of color and could automate biases already pervasive in law enforcement. Privacy advocates see banning facial recognition as a unique opportunity to prevent the technology from getting too entrenched. “We’re doing it now before the genie gets out of the bottle,” says Brian Hofer, an attorney who heads Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, which spearheaded the legislation in that city.

In San Francisco, the police department says it doesn’t currently use facial recognition, although it tested the technology on booking photos between 2013 and 2017. The Sheriff’s department, which is included under the board’s unique city-and-county authority, says it doesn’t either. “We will comply with whatever the requirements are,” says spokeswoman Nancy Crowley, adding that officers are equipped with Axon body camera

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Crypto Currency

New to Blockchain: Turning In-Game Virtual Goods into Assets

resident CryptoKitty, a cartoon cat with tiger stripes and trembling eyes, for $1.05. Since then, we haven’t seen her much. A so-called “digital collectible,” she lives a lonely life in perpetuity at an address on the Ethereum blockchain: You can look at her, but little else. Soon, though, her digital life could gain a bit…

resident CryptoKitty, a cartoon cat with tiger stripes and trembling eyes, for $1.05. Since then, we haven’t seen her much. A so-called “digital collectible,” she lives a lonely life in perpetuity at an address on the Ethereum blockchain: You can look at her, but little else. Soon, though, her digital life could gain a bit more excitement—in the hands of game developers.

Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.

For developers, the technology that underpins Catoshi offers an intriguing twist on the economics of gaming. Virtual goods are already a $50 billion-plus annual market, making up the bulk of gaming industry revenue as players shell out for the likes of fancier virtual swords and new character outfits. But unlike a CryptoKitty, gamers don’t really own the virtual items they pay for: at the end of the day, they’re pixels that disappear when you delete the game. Companies like Andreessen Horowitz–backed Forte and Hong Kong’s Animoca, which invested in CryptoKitties last year, want to use blockchain technology to turn these ephemeral items into assets.

Kevin Chou, Forte’s CEO, previously founded Kabam, the mobile gaming company that was a pioneer of the so-called freemium model: Games that are free to download and don’t require a fancy console to play, but generate revenue by selling virtual goods. Chou’s insight was that people increasingly live their lives online, and put real value on their virtual experience. “Imagine a person who’s spending three or four hours a day playing a game and is plugged into the community, talking about what’s going on in their lives with their friends,” he says. That makes people more likely to pay for virtual items, whether to unlock new types of gameplay or simply because they look pretty. Kabam sold for nearly $1 billion in 2017, primarily to South Korea’s Netmarble.

But Chou says in-game economies have grown so complicated that developers have trouble overseeing them. As a result, they place limits. Game developers typically sell goods directly to gamers and keep a firm grip on the levers of supply and demand. There’s no mechanism for players to sell the virtual items among themselves—because they don’t actually own the things. “Right now these are basically command-and-control economies,” says Brett Seyler, Forte’s chief platform officer.

Some players find loopholes to buy and sell their in-game spoils.CounterStrike: Global Offensive, a popular multiplayer shooting game, became notorious for supporting billions of dollars in bets that use decorative virtual weapons, known as “skins,” as gambling chips to wager

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Crypto Currency

Not caring about bad news, Bitcoin goes above $6,000 for the first time this year

If you thought that the theft of 7,000 bitcoins from one of the world’s biggest crypto exchanges would stop Bitcoin’s price in its tracks, you were wrong.  On Thursday, the price of Bitcoin went above $6,000 for the first time since November last year. At the time of writing, Bitcoin is trading at $6,102.64 according…


If you thought that the theft of 7,000 bitcoins from one of the world’s biggest crypto exchanges would stop Bitcoin’s price in its tracks, you were wrong. 

On Thursday, the price of Bitcoin went above $6,000 for the first time since November last year. At the time of writing, Bitcoin is trading at $6,102.64 according to CoinMarketCap. 

The Binance hack — made worse by the company CEO Changpeng Zhao’s short-lived suggestion to change Bitcoin’s history to undo the hack — wasn’t the only recent bad news for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general. In April, news broke that China is considering banning cryptocurrency mining in the country. Later that month, cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex and stablecoin Tether were accused by the New York Attorney General of covering up an $850 million loss of customer fund

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Crypto Currency

Major U.S. retailers are now accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency

Major U.S. retailers are now accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency

Major U.S. retailers are now accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency
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