An Internet user who consults ten websites is tracked more than 4,000 times, explains UFC. The consumers’ association provides them with a free tool to find out what online platforms know about them, enabling them to regain control.
As part of European Data Protection Day (January 28, 2024), and as an extension of its “I am not data” campaign, UFC-Que Choisir has published an alarming study (see below) on the extent of data collection and sharing by Web players. This enables consumers to be profiled, and exposes them to veritable tracking for commercial purposes, aimed at displaying targeted advertising. UFC Que Choisir demands that consumers be guaranteed genuine control over their personal data, which is collected and shared by online companies.
Data collected, then resold
Every day, explains the UFC, consumers’ personal data is tracked, sold and used without their knowledge. UFC-Que Choisir’s tests show that by consulting just ten of the most popular sites in France, personal data collected is shared more than 4,000 times, with over 1,000 companies that are online advertising providers and data brokers. This massive sharing of personal data is fueled by real-time bidding (RTB), an advertising technology present on almost all websites and applications.
An advertising portrait of consumers
Thanks to this sophisticated and ubiquitous tracking technology, personal data merchants are able to create a precise advertising profile of each consumer, exposing details ranging from their consumption habits to their financial situation or state of mental health, UFC Que Choisir points out. For example, Microsoft’s advertising subsidiary classifies consumers according to over 650,000 personality traits and personal situations. Many of these traits are highly personal, even intimate, such as “receptive to emotional messages”, “money problems”, “gambling addiction”, “erectile dysfunction”, “depression”, “big pregnancy test buyer”, “union sympathizer”, or “opioid dependency”.
Algorithms track your behavior
Algorithms meticulously analyze browsing behaviors, preferences and purchase histories to create profiled ads that entice consumers to succumb to impulse buying. This practice of exploiting psychological vulnerabilities and creating a sense of immediate need and instant gratification leads to a constant over-stimulation of consumers, driving them to buy products they may not even need. Targeted online advertising thus proves to be a factor in unreasonable consumption. Added to this is the tangible risk of data piracy and cybercriminal acts to the detriment of consumer privacy, which is multiplied by the constant circulation of personal data between thousands of companies.
Consumer rights systematically flouted
Faced with these abuses, 84% of consumers are not in favor of tracking and monetizing their online behavior. Yet companies use deceptive and aggressive practices to obtain their consent. For example, they frequently resort to dark patterns, or interfaces designed to manipulate consumers’ free choice (pre-ticked boxes, or the absence of buttons to refuse data sharing). Another classic strategy is to overwhelm consumers with unintelligible, lengthy terms and conditions, which they are then asked to accept. Reading the entire terms and conditions of Facebook, one of the behemoths of online advertising, would take no less than 2 hours and 45 minutes, not to mention the fact that it’s incomprehensible verbiage for the non-legal expert consumer!
The Consumers’ Association is calling for greater transparency.
UFC Que Choisir provides consumers with a free tool enabling them to find out what online platforms know about them, and take back control of their personal data.