Week 4: The Data Economy

Warm Up: Learn a New Term

Marketing happens in all sorts of ways, but there’s a subset of ads you see which target you based on data obtained about you. We’re talking data from the “surveillance”, or covert observation, of ordinary consumer activities. Everything you do, from visiting websites, to buying goods or services at a physical retail store, to using your credit card, to leveling up in a video game, is being collected by someone.

The surveillance economy is all about using information about you that’s been collected in one context—such as a website visit, an action taken in an app, or a visit to a physical location—and applying that information to another context, to affect the ads you see, the prices you are quoted, and more. The surveillance economy is not limited to one kind of business. Although large tech companies are well known for surveillance, and some recent legislative attention has been paid to data brokers—firms that buy and sell surveillance data—most of the companies that you interact with every day are participating in the surveillance economy in some way.

Workout: Disable Ad ID Tracking on iOS and Android

This week, let’s take a simple action to limit what the surveyors can learn about you. We’re going to do this by disabling something called an “ad identifier” on your mobile device – this is the “key” that enables most third party tracking on your phone. Disabling this Ad ID Tracking on your mobile device will make it harder for advertisers and data brokers to track you. By disabling these settings you are reducing – but not eliminating – the amount of your information about you that leaks from your usage of mobile apps.

Whether you are team Apple iOS or team Android, you can follow our steps by step guide on how to disable your ad identifier.

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Stretch Goals: Continue Reading and Take Action

You’ve just taken an important step to limit the amount of data your device is leaking to the outside world. This is an important personal change, but we can’t do this alone. Sign our petition to the FTC to set strong rules on what companies are and aren’t allowed to do with our data.

You’ve learned a bit about about the surveillance economy today, but even here at CR we’re still grappling with the size and scope of who is tracking us and what they are doing with the data they gather. Learn more below: