“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver has found a clever way of forcing Congress to address those “oddly specific” targeted online ads we have come to accept — as creepy as they are — from Big Tech: Blackmail them with the very data they have allowed people like a late-night comedian to purchase.
As many internet users are already aware, all the information a person shares online, be it on Twitter or through Google searches or from your YouTube watch history (among the bottomless well on other data sources) are gathered together, packaged, and sold to any person or company with the money to buy it.
Often that information is bundled under common themes, including actual names such as “Ambitious Singles,” “Couples With Clout” and “Kids and Cabernet” — names Oliver quipped sound like “immediately green-lit shows on TLC.”
But as Rolling Stone pointed out, “brokers group people in far less fanciful ways,” such as “Suffering Seniors” or according to their medical conditions.
“Last year, Epsilon, one of those ghoulish companies, was forced to pay $150 million in penalties because they’d knowingly sold the data of 30 million people to scammers targeting seniors,” Rolling Stone notes.
And selling your information is big business for Big Tech.
“The entire economy of the internet right now is basically built on this practice,” Oliver stated. “All the free stuff that you take for granted online is only free because you are the product. They make money by selling your data.”
Sexual preferences, physical ailments, or pretty much anything else the brokers wish to sling are valuable commodities, Oliver explained, and Congress has been unwilling to do anything to stop it.
And then Oliver made a case for why our nation’s lawmakers should be more concerned about this issue by illustrating “just how easy it is for anyone — and I do mean anyone — to get their personal information.”
Oliver produced an envelope that he claimed contained data he gathered in a “f—ing creepy” way.
By targeting ads to a subset of people located around Capitol Hill, Oliver was able to take the data compiled and not only identify several specific lawmakers but also their search histories.
“If you’re thinking, ‘How on Earth is any of this legal?’ I totally agree with you,” Oliver said. “It shouldn’t be.”
“And if you happen to be a legislator who is feeling a little nervous right now about whether your information is in this envelope and if you’re terrified about what I might do with it, you might want to channel that worry into making sure I can’t do anything,” Oliver stated.
“Anyway,” he added, “sleep well.”
Said one Twitter user in a response, “John Oliver essentially blackmailing congress with legally-obtained info sourced from data brokers is a new high point in late night.”
John Oliver essentially blackmailing congress with legally-obtained info sourced from data brokers is a new high point in late night.
— Paul Cogan (@PaulCogan) April 11, 2022
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