John Oliver arrests data brokers and urges Congress to act

Data brokers know if you have cancer, diabetes, or a baby on the way. You might think it’s illegal under HIPAA, but as John Oliver revealed on his “Last Week Tonight” show, many data brokers reveal extremely sensitive medical information. To urge Congress to limit data collection, he essentially blackmailed lawmakers with private data he obtained legally.

Now, before we go any further, a quick disclaimer: I’m not going to play politics with this article. But this is pretty big news in the world of data collection, so I want to tell you about it. Tap or click here to find out which apps collect the most data about you.

If you’re wondering who John Oliver is, don’t worry, I got you. I’ll tell you who he is, what his show has covered, and why this story is so huge. Keep reading to find out how this late-night comedy show could finally get Congress to crack down on data brokerage.

Expect surveillance

If you browse the Internet without special protection, nothing you do is private. There are countless ways you get tracked, like John Oliver broke down on his last “Last week tonight” episode. He is a British-American comedian famous for his political commentary.

His show revealed that data brokers know your name, age, salary, marital status, sexuality, religion, and more. These companies see you as part of a menu. They will classify you into groups with names such as Influential Couples, Ambitious Singles, Boomers and Boomerangs, Golf Carts and Gourmets, etc.

Here is a concrete example:

This is so marketers can better sell you things they think you might like. But it can feel incredibly intrusive. As Oliver pointed out, you can withdraw certain types of data collection. Tap or click here to access a tool you can use to find and disable any sites collecting your data.

Fortunately, there are several ways to limit tracking, such as going to Settings on your iPhone, tap Privacy and turn off the toggle that says Allow apps to request tracking. On your Android, go to Settings > Google > Ads and flip the switch to Disable ad personalization.

However, not all sites will allow you to regain control

As Oliver said on this show, there is no federal law requiring data brokers to honor opt-out requests. He pointed out that this can be extremely dangerous for victims of domestic violence. An attacker could buy a victim’s information for as little as $45, because private data isn’t always expensive.

Oliver also threw bombs at his audience. Here is an example :

The lack of regulation here doesn’t just benefit people who might harm you. It also benefits the government, as it gives them a very attractive escape from Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

John Oliver, last week tonight

Here’s what he means. The Fourth Amendment requires government officials to obtain a warrant before collecting information about you without your consent. But if government officials want to save time, they can simply purchase the information from a data broker.

I have written about this lack of regulation before. My podcast, Kim Komando Today, delved deeper into how companies and government organizations can buy your private data. Tap or click here to listen to this episode.

Why didn’t Congress crack down on data brokerage?

As always, follow the money. The Markup reports that data brokers pour a ton of money into lobbying. Their spending rivaled Facebook and Google in 2020, Markup reports.

To show Congress just how invasive data tracking is, Oliver’s team ran three targeted ads in the Capitol Hill area. From that single ad, they got people’s IP addresses, device IDs and more. He urged lawmakers to take action to restrict this kind of invasive tracking. Watch it for yourself here:

If this guide to John Oliver and data brokerage made you nervous, I have good news. I’ve written a ton of guides on how you can protect your data. I’ll tell you how to opt out of data tracking and give you some safe options for search engines, emails and more.

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