Each time you open an app on your phone or browse the web, an auction for your eyeballs is taking place behind the scenes thanks to a thriving market for personal data. The size of that market has always been hard to pin down, but a new report from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which has aggressively campaigned for years in the U.S. and Europe to put limits on the trade of digital data, has now put a figure to it. The report, which the council shared with Bloomberg Opinion, says ad platforms transmit the location data and browsing habits of Americans and Europeans about 178 trillion times each year. According to the report, Google transmits the same kind of data more than 70 billion times daily, across both regions.
It is hard for humans to conceptualize such numbers, even if machines calculate them comfortably everyday — but if the exhaust of our personal data could be seen in the same way pollution can, we’d be surrounded by an almost impenetrable haze that gets thicker the more we interact with our phones. Quantified another way: By way of online activity and location, a person in the U.S. is exposed 747 times each day to real-time bidding, according to the data. The council says its unnamed source has special access to a manager of an ad campaign run by Google. (The figure doesn’t include personal data transmitted by Meta Platform Inc.’s Facebook or Amazon.com Inc.’s ad networks, meaning the true measure of all broadcast data is probably much larger.)
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