We often read about the tech giants being too big. But the talk is usually some vague language about how they have our data or that they can manipulate society without any real concrete examples. Well, we’ve recently been given some specific examples regarding just how big the tech giants are.
Google is in the middle of an anti-trust lawsuit and forgot to redact some important bits of information that wasn’t supposed to be public. That information pertained to a Project Bernanke (probably named for Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014).
This project revolved around the fact that Google is both a client and a vendor for online ads. Google sells ad space and if you own a website you can sign up for their program and make money by putting Google Ads on your website. The flip side of this is that you can purchase ads from Google and set a certain amount of money per click or ad view. Advertisers buy ads from Google, those ads are clicked on or seen by users of a website, Google takes a cut and pays out the rest to the website owner.
Google was able to use information from both the buying and selling side to game the system. They would nudge buyers into increasing their bids based on historical data. In 2013 it’s estimated that doing this earned Google an extra $213 million.
But Google is also a client on this platform. They show ads for their own services in competition with ads for other services. And Google has all of the information regarding how much ad buyers are willing to pay while the buyers do not. The anti-trust lawsuit is centered around that fact. It states that Google essentially has insider trading information and an advantage over ad buyers on its platform.
Facebook, who I wrote about in my last column, is still in the hot seat over the hack that allowed the personal information of more than 500 million users, including 32 million Americans, to leak. The hack took advantage of a feature that allowed people to look for you based on your phone number. If someone entered your phone number, Facebook would send them your basic profile information, including age, marital status and several other details. Hackers used this tool and entered in every possible phone number and recorded the data that came back.
When asked about this breach, Facebook essentially blamed its users for getting their data stolen. It noted that if you didn’t want people to be able to search for you by phone number, you could have turned that option off in your profile. Google also said that the hack is two years old and the data is not new. Though I would argue things like phone numbers, date of birth, full names and so on is data that won’t change and would be valuable whether it was stolen and used in 2019 or in 2021 (as did happen when that information was put up on a hacker website for free recently).
If you’re wondering if an account of yours has been part of a breach you can go to haveibeenpwned.com and enter your email address. That website is run by highly respected security researcher Troy Hunt and aggregates data from every security breach. If your email shows up in a breach, it’ll let you know and tell you how to proceed.