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Untangling the other dark web – of pervasive, inescapable, corporate surveillance

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Visitors to this site are well aware of how our every move is tracked as we move around the Internet. We know that companies are building minutely-detailed profiles of us, stored on huge databases, and that the information held there not only changes the ads we see, and the prices that companies offer us when we visit e-commerce sites, but even the mix of news stories that we view. The scale of this “surveillance capitalism”, as it has been called, is vast. One recent study looked at a million Web sites, and found that over 80,000 third-party services receive details about the visitors to them.

The difficulty of grasping something this complex makes a new Cracked Labs report “Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life”, available as a ten-part overview online and as a more detailed free 93-page PDF, particularly valuable. For the first time, it maps out the “other” dark web – the one that is hidden in plain sight, because at the heart of the surveillance capitalism lies omnipresent online advertising. The ability to gather information about Internet users, and to identify them in real-time, together offer unprecedented scope for advertisers to personalize their ads and offers on the fly, and thus to maximize their returns:

“When a person visits a website, it sends metadata about the contents of the page, user profile data, and, usually, some kind of user identifier to multiple advertisers. Then, advertisers who are interested in delivering an ad to this particular user at this particular time and in the context of this particular page make a bid. The highest–bidding advertiser wins and gets to place the ad. This so-called “real-time bidding” happens within the milliseconds of a website loading.”

The central position of the biggest global players like Google and Facebook was cemented

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