Ban Spying on the Internet

The internet has transformed our lives. But while we use the internet to access information and talk to our friends and family, we are exposed to extensive commercial tracking online. This tracking is another way of saying surveillance. Not from governments, but from private companies, who only wish to use it to manipulate us.

Information about you - what you buy, where you go, and even where you look - fuels the digital economy. On one hand, advertisements are directed at us and on the other, information about us is collected and sold to the highest bidder, which can then be used to aim more targeted ads and influence our choices and opinions.

This pervasive online behavioral surveillance apparatus turns our lives into open books — with every mouse click and screen swipe tracked and disseminated throughout the vast ad tech ecosystem.

For years, Big Tech has tried to speak for us. They tell anyone who will listen that we all want our data to be collected, so we can get “relevant ads”. At the same time, they have told us that, without the right to collect and harness our data, they couldn’t provide us with quality technology for free. Sadly, over time, they have managed to convince many people to accept this false bargain.

These practices have become so widespread that the accumulating damage not only impacts you but society itself.

Or, more plainly: Big Tech’s toxic business model based on surveillance advertising is undermining democracy. We are at a turning point where we can no longer afford to look the other way.

The unnecessary collection of user data and the building of targeted profiles of people has to stop. Surveillance-based advertising needs to end.

It is time… to ban spying on the Internet.

  • What’s a surveillance-based economy?

    When we search using Google, we are providing information about our selves. When we use social media, we provide at times intimate information about us. Social media apps such as Facebook follow your every move around the internet, even if the app isn't open, and the social network tries to pitch this as a great advance. Facebook reminds us that we’re living in a reality TV program where the cameras are always on. Even the apps for our domestic appliances come with a privacy policy and require access to the camera, contact list, and user location.

    Over time, these players and others have amassed a treasure trove of our data which, in turn, has given them incredible power. They can exploit our choices and our behavior by gathering an enormous amount of information about us – with or without our consent. With information including what we like, what we buy, our mental and physical health, sexual orientation, location, and political views, our behavioral profiles often reveal more about us than we know ourselves.

    These extensive behavioral profiles can then be used to manipulate us, to influence our purchases, choices, and opinions. Companies can use them to decide who to hire or offer a loan to. Such profiles are available for companies to purchase and use for whatever purpose they desire.

    In this way, the personal data we give away for free is transformed into a precious commodity.

    So far, the players have managed to remain under the radar of legislation in many countries, and have falsely persuaded many that this is the only way businesses can run successfully. Yet a great many companies, large and small, have proven that a business can thrive without invading our privacy.

    Here are some of the most common ways to monitor and collect information about you:

    • Pages you visit and what content you view on them.
    • The text that you write in the address bar.
    • By analyzing where you stop on a page and for how long - seeing which parts of the page you actually seem to pay attention to.
    • Your travel through your phone's GPS location device and Bluetooth Beacons.
    • By "intercepting" email communications and queries in search engines.
    • Listings of what you buy with a credit/debit card, data that some banks sell to advertisers.
    • Internet Protocol (IP) address.
    • Tracking your cursor's movements on your computer and what you click.
    • Cross website tracking.
    • Apps on various devices including phones and computers.
    • Seeing who your friends are on social media, and what their interests are.
    • Seeing what locations you have been tagged at, in someone else’s social media pictures.
  • How damaging is a surveillance-based economy?

    Massive information about us is collected from all quarters. As this information is compiled, it develops a complex picture of us and reveals what we do in our daily lives, including in our sensitive moments. Certainly, this systematic spying is at odds with our fundamental right to privacy and can be used to discriminate against us and lead to other abuses.

    Amnesty International's recent report points out that such an economy is a serious threat to fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and equality.

    A report by the Norwegian Consumer Association exposes the harmful consequences that the surveillance economy has on individuals and society:

    Manipulation

    Companies with comprehensive and intimate knowledge about us can shape their messages in attempts to reach us when we are susceptible, for example, to influence elections or to advertise weight loss products, unhealthy food or gambling.

    Discrimination

    The opacity and automation of surveillance-based advertising systems increase the risk of discrimination, for example by excluding consumers based on income, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, location, or by making certain consumers pay more for products or services.

    Misinformation

    The lack of control over where ads are shown can promote and finance false or malicious content. This also poses significant challenges to publishers and advertisers regarding revenue, reputational damage, and opaque supply chains.

    Undermining competition

    The surveillance business model favors companies that collect and process information across different services and platforms. This makes it difficult for smaller actors to compete, and negatively impacts companies that respect consumers’ fundamental rights.

    Security risks

    When thousands of companies collect and process enormous amounts of personal data, the risk of identity theft, fraud , and blackmail increases. NATO has described this data collection as a national security risk.

    Privacy violations

    The collection and use of personal data is happening with little or no control, both by large companies and by companies that are unknown to most consumers. Consumers have no way to know what data is collected, who the information is shared with, and how it may be used.

  • How can I protect myself?

    The aim of privacy is to protect people’s freedom. So caring about data privacy is not only caring about the data itself, but about the person this data represents.

    Until legislation catches up to these surveillance tactics, here are several ways to help avoid or limit the information being gathered about you.

    1. Fix your privacy settings.

      In most browsers, you can adjust your privacy settings. Use a privacy-oriented web browser and enable tracker blocking if it is available. Some might allow you to see which websites have been trying to track you. Avoid using browsers that actively monitor what you are doing and what websites you look at.

      With phones and other mobile devices: Turn off location services, Bluetooth (which can be used for tracking beacons), and other information collection when it is unnecessary and not in use. Disable sharing of information with the phone supplier. Also, disable all unwanted permissions for all apps.

      With smart devices such as TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.Decline apps and services that you do not want following you.

    2. Uncheck cookies when you can.

      When you browse a new website, simply click "no" when you are asked to collect cookies. While this may inhibit some functionality, it is worth it for your safety and your device. Most browsers also let you disable third-party cookies globally, but this may sometimes cause problems on websites that need them legitimately.

    3. Limit the personal information you share on social media.

      Don't share too much information on social media, since the social media website - or other services that use it - can collect that information. Do not participate in social media games that require access to unnecessary information about you, such as your photos and friends list. Only accept a social media friend request if you really know the person and have made sure that the request is really from the person they claim to be.

    4. Review your social media privacy settings.

      You may want to limit who can view your posts. Is it necessary to display where or when you were born? Does the social media website need to know that information?

    5. Take care when browsing the web.

      In addition to choosing a browser that does not collect information about you, consider browsing using private mode (e.g., Incognito). Note that while using an incognito mode, some browsers and websites may nevertheless follow you, based on your IP address, or other websites you browsed during that private session.

    6. Use a privacy-oriented search engine.

      Most people use the Google search engine. But some may not realize that Google and similar search engines collect and sell information about your searches and the websites you visit. You might say that when you search for information using them, they search for information about you.

      Choose privacy-oriented search engines, such as DuckDuckGo, StartPage, Neeva, Escosia and others that do not sell information about you.

    7. Think before clicking.

      Phishing is one of the ways that hackers use to get your information. They try to deceive you into providing valuable and personal information. Often it is done with extremely well-made emails that appear to be from reputable companies, where you are told to click on a link to confirm something or prevent something else. Similarly, these attackers send messages on social media that seem to be from a friend who tells you something really clever that you just need to click to see.

      Before clicking on suspicious links, hover the cursor over the link to view the URL displayed there. If you do not know the URL, do not click, but contact the sender and ask if this is real or a scam. After clicking a link, check the website address that got opened, to make sure the link address was not changed when you clicked.

  • Say no to the surveillance economy. How can you join our fight?

    We need our representatives to focus on these matters for the benefit of us all. The status quo is a losing game for us, our economy, and society. A radical change is needed to secure our privacy over the long term, restore competition on the Internet, and reverse the damage brought by these unethical practices.

    A ban on targeted profiling and surveillance-based advertising will force a long overdue change and rethink of the business models of companies addicted to tracking for profit. And of course, lead to a healthier internet and a better society.

    The Consumer Council in Iceland, along with many consumer and human rights organizations, have sent letters to recommend the banning of tracking practices and surveillance-based advertising to governments in both the US and EU in 2021. See more here.

    For years, the Vivaldi browser has clearly called for a ban on surveillance-based advertising. Very recently, the Vivaldi browser joined with 14 other private companies to send an open letter to the EU & US regulators, urging them to take action on banning surveillance-based ads, as recommended by the Norwegian Consumer Council. Read the open letter here.

    Some noteworthy steps have been taken by various organizations:

  • Behind the Spy Cat video.

    The Spy Cat video is a small attempt to show the big hazards caused by targeted profiling and advertising and to make them more relatable for people. Feel free to share it.

    A word of thanks to the following:

    Director: Reynir Lyngdal
    Screenplay: Bergur Ebbi and Reynir Lyngdal
    Producer: Reynir Lyngdal
    Assistant Director: Guðgeir “Don Gucci” Arngrímsson
    Camera Operator: Ásgrímur Guðbjartsson
    1st Assistant Camera: Daníel Gylfason
    Gaffer: Geir Magnússon
    Assistant gaffer and 2nd Assistant Camera: Eyþór Ingvarsson
    Make-up: Ragna Fossberg
    Costumes: Elma Lísa Gunnarsdóttir
    Editing: Guðni Hilmar Halldórsson / TooCutty
    Post-production: Trickshot, Bjarki Guðjónsson
    Color correction: Luis Ascanio
    VFX and graphics: Gísli Þór Brynjólfsson
    Music: Stefán Örn Gunnlaugsson
    Sound recording and mixing/mastering: Jóhannes Bragi Bjarnason, Audioland
    Narrator: Bergur Ebbi

    Cast:
    Björk Guðmundsdóttir
    Nína Magnea Lyngdal Reynisdóttir
    Hildur Ríkey Stefánsdóttir

    Cats:
    Flóki, Hneta, Lotta, Mandarína, Milla, Mirra, Móri og Stormur

    Advice:
    Jon von Tetzchner
    María Þorgeirsdóttir
    Breki Karlsson

    Produced for the Consumers’ Association of Iceland in collaboration with Vivaldi Technologies

    Thanks to: Hamborgarabúllan, Edda Sif Guðbrandsdóttir, Guðrún Edda Haraldsdóttir, the family in Barðarstönd 27, and Leikskólinn Ægisborg