Corporate surveillance, digital tracking, big data & privacy: How thousands of companies are profiling, categorizing, rating and affecting the lives of billions

Presented at 33C3 (2016), Dec. 29, 2016, 11:30 a.m. (60 minutes)

Today virtually everything we do is monitored in some way. The collection, analysis and utilization of digital information about our clicks, swipes, likes, purchases, movements, behaviors and interests have become part of everyday life. While individuals become increasingly transparent, companies take control of the recorded data.

In his talk, Wolfie Christl will outline how today’s online platforms, data brokers, credit reporting agencies, insurers, mobile app developers and tech companies are collecting, analyzing, sharing and making use of vast amounts of data about our everyday lives – across platforms, devices and life contexts. In October 2016, his book „Networks of Control“ was published, a comprehensive report about privacy in times of corporate surveillance, digital tracking and big data. The report was co-authored by Sarah Spiekermann, a renowned privacy scholar, and not only exposes the full degree and scale of today’s personal data industry, but also shows how algorithmic decisions on people lead to discrimination, exclusion and other harms.

Based on many examples, Wolfie Christl will give an overview of his research: Who are the players in today's surveillance economy? How do networks of online platforms, tech companies and data brokers really collect, analyze, trade and make use of personal data? What can be inferred from our purchases, web searches and likes? How is analytics based on personal information already used in fields such as insurance, finance, healthcare and employment to treat people differently? And, what are the societal implications and risks of ubiquitous corporate surveillance?


  • Wolfie Christl
    Wolfie Christl is a technologist, researcher, writer and privacy advocate with a focus on the social impact of information technology. Communication engineer by profession, he forgot almost everything about CRT TVs, 8051 assembler and Yagi antennas, but studied (and did not complete degrees in) computer science, sociology and media studies. Having been into digital communities, open source, bottom-up media and Python since the late 1990's, his current work is focused on privacy in times of pervasive digital tracking and data-driven decisions on people. In October 2016, his book „Networks of Control“ was published, written together with Sarah Spiekermann. His 2014 study „Kommerzielle digitale Überwachung im Alltag“ was presented in the European Parliament and widely discussed in German-speaking countries. Before, he co-created „Data Dealer“, an award-winning online game about personal data and privacy. In addition, he contributed to TV documentaries about digital tracking, works as a trainer for employee privacy and writes for newspapers such as the German FAZ. From 2000 to 2006 he was a part of Public Netbase, a media art platform, non-profit ISP and kind of early hackerspace in Vienna. He and his projects have been featured in the New York Times, Forbes and many other media outlets around the world.


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