A report claims that data about every internet user is shared hundreds of times per day as companies compete for online advertising slots.
According to a study conducted by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the average European user’s data is shared 376 times per day.
According to the report, this figure rises to 747 times per day for US-based users.
Most internet services are free to use because of revenue generated by digital advertisements.
The ICCL is currently suing the digital ad industry and the Data Protection Commission over what it calls an epic data breach, claiming that no one has ever expressly consented to this practise.
The data is shared between brokers acting on behalf of those wishing to place adverts, in real time, as a web page loads in front of someone who is reading it. The brands in the adverts themselves are not involved.
It includes information about the device the page is loading on, some details about where that device is, and other information such as previous websites visited and their subject matter.
It is used to ensure that the most relevant bidder receives the ad space on the page.
This all happens automatically and in a fraction of a second, and it’s a multibillion-dollar industry.
Although no personally identifiable information is included, campaigners argue that the volume of data is still a violation of privacy.
“Every day the RTB [Real Time Bidding] industry tracks what you are looking at, no matter how private or sensitive, and it records where you go. This is the biggest data breach ever recorded. And it is repeated every day,” said Dr Johnny Ryan, senior fellow at the ICCL.
The ICCL’s report figures do not include numbers from two advertising revenue giants – Meta (which owns Facebook) and Amazon.
It says the source of the data was a Google feed covering a 30-day period. It is made available to the industry, but not the public.