Today in Organizations That Treat Your Personal Information Badly: the U.S. Department of Education, Grindr, and the Ad Tech Machine

Surya Mattu and Colin Lecher, the Markup:

For millions of prospective college students, applying online for federal financial aid has also meant sharing personal data with Facebook, unbeknownst to them or their parents, The Markup has learned. This information has included first and last names, email addresses, and zip codes.

After The Markup questioned the U.S. Department of Education about the tracking practice, the feature that enables sharing those details with Facebook was turned off. But personal data from an unknown number of students remains in Facebook’s hands, to be used for its own purposes. According to the company’s privacy policy, it may retain this type of data for years. And the tracker remains on the website and continues to share some information about visitors with Facebook.

Byron Tau and Georgia Wells, Wall Street Journal:

Clients of a mobile-advertising company have for years been able to purchase bulk phone – movement data that included many Grindr users, said people familiar with the matter.

The data didn’t contain personal information such as names or phone numbers. But the Grindr data were in some cases detailed enough to infer things like romantic encounters between specific users based on their device’s proximity to one another, as well as identify clues to people’s identities such as their workplaces and home addresses based on their patterns, habits and routines, people familiar with the data said.

Via Shoshana Wodinsky, Gizmodo:

Does the blame in this case lie with Grindr? Absolutely. But it also lies with a system that handles your anonymity without care. Right now, if you have enough cash, you can buy location data from cell towers, satellites, retailers and countless apps that might, inadvertently, surface someone’s sexuality. And until the LGBT+ community stops being seen as a juicy market for ad targeting, people will keep buying that data, and they’ll keep doing whatever they want with it, legally. And that means nobody, queer or otherwise, is safe.

So long as personal data harvested largely without explicit consent continues to be treated as a product, it is unsurprising how invasive this industry will continue to operate. The only way this changes is if individuals have a legally guaranteed right to privacy and if businesses are prevented from sharing and collating the information they collect except under specific and rare circumstances.