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Congress Says Foreign Intel Services Could Abuse Ad Networks For Spying

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A group of bipartisan lawmakers, including the chairman of the intelligence committee, have asked ad networks such as Google and Twitter what foreign companies they provide user data to, over concerns that foreign intelligence agencies could be leveraging them to harvest sensitive information on U.S. users, including their location. “This information would be a goldmine for foreign intelligence services that could exploit it to inform and supercharge hacking, blackmail, and influence campaigns,” a letter signed by Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Warner, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill Cassidy, reads. The lawmakers sent the letter last week to AT&T, Verizon, Google, Twitter, and a number of other companies that maintain advertisement platforms.

The concerns center around the process of so-called real-time bidding, and the flow of “bidstream” data. Before an advertisement is displayed inside of an app or a browsing session, different companies bid to get their ad into that slot. As part of that process, participating companies obtain sensitive data on the user, even if they don’t win the ad placement. “Few Americans realize that some auction participants are siphoning off and storing ‘bidstream’ data to compile exhaustive dossiers about them. In turn, these dossiers are being openly sold to anyone with a credit card, including to hedge funds, political campaigns, and even to governments,” the letter continued. […] The letter asked the ad companies to name the foreign-headquartered or foreign-majority owned firms that they have provided bidstream data from users in the U.S. to in the past three years. The other companies the lawmakers sent the letter to were Index Exchange, Magnite, OpenX, and PubMatic. Mark Tallman, assistant professor at the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told Motherboard in an email that “It’s difficult to imagine any policy solution or technical sorcery that can fully ‘secure’ consumers’ private data such that applications and platforms can collect it, and the publishing and advertising industries can access it, while guaranteeing that cybercriminals and foreign intelligence agencies will never get it. Our adversaries already know that they can buy (or steal) data from our marketplace that they could only dream of collecting on such a broad swath of Americans twenty years ago.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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