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Businesses Privacy The Internet Technology

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
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The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss

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  • by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @08:05AM (#55561449)

    ...it kinda sucks when someone takes information you thought was yours alone and sells it to the highest bidder, eh?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You mean Amazon not Apple. Apple tends not to sell its user data to third-parties. What they do with it internally is a different matter.

      • There could be a hint in there, somewhere, following the ellipsis... wink, wink, nod, nod.
        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @12:47PM (#55563913)

          Much of TFA is misleading. Google, Facebook, and Apple all have privacy statements that expressly and unambiguously state that they DO NOT share your data with anyone. Perhaps they are lying, but TFA provides no evidence whatsoever that they are.

          Amazon's privacy statement [amazon.com] says that they DO share your data, and describes who they share it with, and why.

          Microsoft's privacy statement [microsoft.com] appears to have been drafted by a large team of lawyers, working with their PR department, to say as little as possible about anything. It even has a subsection on "Fitness and Health" ... that says nothing about privacy.

          Lumping all these companies together is very misleading and unfair.

          • I was making a joke, but as your comment is a good one, let me respond somewhat accordingly.

            My take from the article (TFA) is that user information is harvested from tech giant's sites, apps and such, both by working within their platforms, and outside their platforms, regardless of the privacy statements. The net effect is user information is collected, repackaged and sold for billions of bucks. Like when Youmi's APIs, used in hundreds of apps, were found harvesting user data; or when health monitoring

          • by pots ( 5047349 )

            Lumping all these companies together is very misleading and unfair.

            It's somewhat misleading, and somewhat unfair. If Facebook collects information on every aspect of your life and sells it to whoever pays them enough, then that's bad. If Facebook collects information on every aspect of your life and doesn't sell it whoever pays them enough, then that's somewhat less bad... but that's still plenty bad.

            The point of the article, the thing that you're supposed to find alarming, is that you don't have control over your data. Whether it's one company or many companies who con

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @09:25AM (#55561877)

      Fortunately, in Europe this is a criminal act.

    • ...it kinda sucks when someone takes information you thought was yours alone and sells it to the highest bidder, eh?

      If you put information out on a public website, you shouldn't be shocked to learn that members of the public can read it.

    • by mi ( 197448 )

      ...it kinda sucks when someone takes information you thought was yours alone and sells it to the highest bidder, eh?

      Weird... I thought, Slashdot's collective opinion [slashdot.org] was, that information can not be stolen — whether it can even be owned is doubtful...

      Because it "wants to be free" and because you still have your files even if I made a copy — and shared it with the rest of the Internet...

      But, yeah, it does suck — and some of us thought so for years...

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Nope, you are confused. The slashdot privacy model is top down. When all the secrets of those at the top are exposed then the secrets of those below them can be accessible and not before. So strictly top down, the most powerful first, the least powerful last. See the subtle difference and you can not escape the logic of it, it is the sane sensible manner it which to do it. Keep in mind they do keep secret, what information about you they have and what they do with it (go on ask google to give you a copy, go

        • by mi ( 197448 )

          When all the secrets of those at the top are exposed then the secrets of those below them can be accessible and not before.

          Secrets? What secrets? For years Slashdot has given high praise to people asserting, information can not be "stolen"... And now, suddenly, it can be... Confusing, is not it?

          go on ask google to give you a copy, go on let's see the results,

          It may be harder with other companies, but Google (claims to) makes it easy [google.com].

          ask them to correct or delete it

          You aren't any more entitled to that, than

    • ...it kinda sucks when someone takes information you thought was yours alone and sells it to the highest bidder, eh?

      Why did you think it was yours? Are you the one who collected it?

  • ...I still manage to stay aside from LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Left linkedin years ago when the second wave of cracked passwords took them to warn the users. As the spam I received from other members had already fed me up, it was the time to leave. I may need to use them again, but in the last three years I have no information with them and intend to keep that way. Information is power...learned that in the BBS-era...in my early twenties, it was the intro phrase for the TERMINATE bbs dialing softw
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @08:19AM (#55561513)

    If the goal is to share information (like your resume to potential employers or customers) you can't keep it private (say, from your current employer, family, or your nosey neighbour).

    If you publish information about yourself on the Internet... YOU'VE PUBLISHED INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELF ON THE INTERNET.

    Who is mining the sites and what they're doing with that information is more or less irrelevant, since you should be assuming everyone is doing whatever they want with it.

    • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @08:42AM (#55561607) Homepage Journal
      100% correct. I don't know why people think that security and networks go together. The entire point of networks is to share with EVERYONE on the network. That was part of the design. Security is a concept that was tacked on later.
      • by umghhh ( 965931 )
        This is actually incorrect or at least it is not an explicit wish or intention to show it off to all when one puts something 'on FB' even if at the end it is almost the final result and something that one could have predicted. OTOH as indicated elsewhere the fact that quite some people are part of FB universe they may have data on almost everybody else albeit not as deep as it is for people taking active part in it. The fact that there are different jurisdictions where the physical servers are hosted and IP
    • by sootman ( 158191 )

      > If you publish information about yourself on the Internet...
      >YOU'VE PUBLISHED INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELF ON THE INTERNET.

      Or, sometimes, you are just in the contacts list of someone ELSE who published information about THEMSELVES on the Internet...

      https://gizmodo.com/how-facebo... [gizmodo.com]

    • If I search for a specialty doctor or use mapping software to find the location of the DR's office on my phone, I HAVE NOT PUBLISHED MY MEDICAL CONDITION but the phone carrier and mapping company will collect and sell that information. I could have my credit rating reduced, or not be hired for that job I just applied for. That's a material violation of my privacy with real world impact.
      • Every time I think I'm getting paranoid in my old age, somebody points out something worse that either has already happened or could credibly be happening.

        Apparently, even as a cranky old man I'm an optimist, relatively speaking.

  • That explains it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @08:38AM (#55561587)

    Last week the headhunters started piling up in my inbox. I mean, yes, I usually got the odd "don't you wanna reorient yourself" mail, but we're talking a flood of mails, with headhunters bending over backwards with offers that made me question their sanity.

    But if they were mining what's publicly available about me, I can understand it.

    You see, the game works both ways. You can dig up anything I put out there about me, but in turn, nothing I put out there about me has to be true. This system assumes that people are actually truthful when they write stuff about themselves. Beats me why this works, but it seems to.

    Well, I am not truthful when I write stuff about me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, Twitter, whatever.

    According to my "social media" pages, I'm the hottest potatoe there is right now in security. I rub shoulders with the best and brightest in the field, there are pictures of me hanging out at a bar with some of the key players in the security world (Photoshop is one hell of a program), and it seems i held the keynote at some of the past Black Hats (hey, it ain't my fault if they use my page instead of Black Hat's as a source for their information!). I also complained about the cocktails at the bar there. And that Bruce Schneier can't really tell jokes. You know, spice it up a bit.

    None of this is true. Nothing. I know Bruce, of course, I can truthfully answer yes if someone asks "you really know Bruce Schneier?". Of course I do, the whole security world does.

    I just highly doubt that he has any clue who I could possibly be...

    I would of course never lie to a potential employer. If they actually ask me whether I gave keynotes at Blackhat, whether I am on a first name base with Bruce Schneier, whether I really declined speaking at Def Con because I didn't like their attitude and that it's "too commercial" for my tastes and I got better things to do than give talks at "insignificant petty has-been cons" like my Facebook claims, I will of course tell them the truth.

    That my Facebook page, along with the other social media pages, are tools to weed out the stupid and gullible.

    • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @09:16AM (#55561805)

      I would of course never lie to a potential employer.

      Yah. Very nice. But how will that potential employer see the information that you published and that they paid good money for, if it turns out to be untrue?

      They'll say, "Well this guy is obviously a habitual liar. Who's the next candidate?"

      • Re:That explains it (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @09:38AM (#55561989)

        I would think "here's a security guy that seems to understand modern security issues".

        • by jsailor ( 255868 )

          You and other thoughtful people might see that, but how does his application get to your desk if it's screened by various systems and less thoughtful humans?

          • Like I said, it's a screening process to weed out the stupid. I do not want to work for people who can't think past the tip of their nose.

      • I would be respecting the candidate's OPSEC skills.

      • In my job, being able to come up with elaborate lies and fortifying them against cursory examination is more likely to land you a job than to disqualify you.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They'll say, "Well this guy is obviously a habitual liar. Who's the next candidate?"

        No. They'll offer him a position in management.

    • This certainly seems to explain the number of really, really pointless "articles" that people post on LinkedIn.

      I used to try reading them, really. But the vast majority of them are really piss-poor.

      The ones about language, language-learning, cultural adaptation and sensitivity, etc. are usually so full of fallacies that I could quite literally spend all my waking hours writing rebuttals to them.

      The ones about management and leadership are even worse.

      It looks like academia, but without the intelligen

      • Those articles are a lot of hot air and aimed at managers who get impressed by big words and people who use them.

        This said, there are a few articles worth reading on lists worth following. Most of them are invite-only, though.

    • If they actually ask me... , I will of course tell them the truth.

      Good luck with that. When they realise that you’ve been intentionally posting lies about yourself, I doubt they will take the time to listen and favourably reflect about your motives (especially when it’s about “weeding out the stupid and gullible” among them).

      On the other hand, I think that your experience illustrates the dangers of this type of low quality data mining, when widespread. If Internet postings contain flattering lies about you, when those recruiters eventually talk to

      • Once headhunters have invested time in you, they want to sell you. All you need is a foot in the door and that's what those pages do.

  • by mrwireless ( 1056688 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @08:50AM (#55561643)

    These companies have a very narrow definition of employee quality that they peddle to insecure managers.

    What they don't take into account is the influence their systems have on the level of 'psychological safety' that employees feel in organizations. The level to which they are willing to challenge dominant (but often wrong) ideas, or share new thoughts. In short, by over-measuring these systems actually limit the ability to innovate.

    Ironically, one of the organizations that has pointed to psychological safety as the key factor for good teamwork is Google:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/0... [nytimes.com]

    A good example of a company in this 'human risk management' field is Red Owl, which recently got bought by another risk management company, Forcepoint. Amongst other things, their software aims to weed out potential whistle blowers.

    A concept I've been working on to help us talk about the long term issues at stake here is "Social Cooling". The website explains the large scale chilling effects which are created by our unprecedented ability and desire to manage risk.
    https://www.socailcooling.com/ [socailcooling.com]

    • The Orville [wikipedia.org] had a wonderful episode (S1:E7, 'Majority Rule') exploring exactly what you're talking about. Plot summary from the Wikipedia article:

      An undercover team led by Grayson lands on Sargas 4, an Earth-like planet with a culture similar to that of 21st-century human civilization, to locate two missing anthropologists. There, LaMarr is arrested after a video of him dancing with a beloved statue receives more than a million "down" votes, and must convince the public to pardon him or be subjected to "treatment" for his actions. Alara and Claire locate one of the missing, but find him in an irreversible lobotomized state. With LaMarr facing a final vote to determine his guilt, Mercer brings one of the planet's inhabitants, Lysella, aboard the Orville and learns about the "Master Feed", which Isaac is able to hack and upload doctored images of John, narrowly swinging the vote in his favor. Now free, John and the others return to the ship and depart. The next day, Lysella decides against taking part in a public vote.

  • Since I may or may not have 3+ TB of confidential information I archived from work, safely encrypted and stored off site in case we had any issues between us.

    There may or may not be information that would cause jail time for many levels of my management.

  • You need to ostracize not just these companies, but any real companies that use it. In short order, companies that sell real products will quickly be brought to heel.

    Someone should do this someday, someone should.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    like the supreme court case in 2012 when it was ruled illegal to attach a GPS device to a car when it would have been legal for the poilice to obtain similar information by tailing the suspect, i think/hope this will be decided in favor of linkedin, for the use of bots effectively makes this a case of surreptitious recording, where the meta-data is being digitally recorded by the bots--each a kind of hyper-spectral recording device.

  • Loss-making venture capital backed companies sure do have contemp for the pricacy of working people.

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