Data Brokers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses how much data brokers know about us, what they’re doing with our personal information, and one….unusual way to change privacy laws.
Data Brokers: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 7
Aired on April 10, 2022

Main segment: Data brokers
Other segments: 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, DirecTV drops OAN

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[Chord hums]

[rock music]

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[cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been another busy week. The senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the supreme court. Elon Musk joined the board of Twitter, presumably to innovate new ways to make it worse. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued to escalate, with reports of unfathomable horrors, strongly suggesting war crimes, if not genocide. And look, I know this is allegedly a comedy show, and I’ve just said the most upsetting collection of words since “Louis CK wins Grammy for best comedy album.” But we do need to at least briefly deal with what’s going on in Ukraine, and particularly Bucha, site of some of the worst images to emerge this week. Because Russian state tv is going out of its way not to. Here is how one broadcaster there spun those terrible images of bodies in the streets.

There are people on the screen that are lying dead in the street with white arm bands. What does that mean? It means that after Russian forces left Bucha, the so-called liberators came in and they simply killed peaceful civilians. On the screen, people are moving. That means that actors were also involved. A conclusion out of all of this is that to achieve their media goals, the Ukrainian Kyiv regime, killed its own people.

John: Yeah, so that man’s official argument is Ukrainians killed their own civilians, who actually aren’t civilians; they’re actors who were just pretending to be dead, and the Ukrainian government itself is responsible for the real slaughter of its own fake civilians. That’s obviously ridiculous, and also ignores the first rule of lying: don’t overcomplicate. There’s a reason the line is “I definitely have a girlfriend, she just goes to another school” and not, “I definitely have a girlfriend, she’s actually twins, sometimes they merge and became one really big girl, I’d invite you to come over and meet them, but that might be confusing, because I am you from the future.” Russian state tv has been grasping at straws all week, with a presenter at one point arguing, as evidence that Bucha was the site of a false flag attack, that “Biden said that Putin is a butcher. Bucha sounds like butcher. How could they not take advantage of such a town?” Which is just insane. If bad things only happened in places with names that sounded scary, all of America’s worst shit would be happening in Tombstone, Arizona, Cape Fear, North Carolina, or hell, Michigan and not where it actually happens: Tallahassee, Florida. But this flagrant lying is consistent with how Russia’s state media’s dealt with this war from the beginning. At first, they refused to even acknowledge there was a war, let alone address casualties. Just watch what happened last month when a military officer merely mentioned Russian deaths.

[Speaking Russian] our guys are really out there— but Donetsk and Luhansk [forces], and our special operation forces— they’re dying now. And our country—

No no no no no no! I don’t want to hear this! Wait!

They’re dying anyway!

Stop! Wait a second!

They’re dying anyway!

Can’t you stop or what?

I just want us to stand up now and honor their memories at least with a minute of silence. Our men.

What are you doing?

Our boys that are still fighting over there for Russia and for the Donbas.

Can you stop now?

John: Wow, close call there! Russian viewers almost learned that their troops were being killed until that host jumped up and screamed “whoa, whoa, whoa, ixnay on the asualties-kay.” Some truly grade-a propaganda work from the network that brought you “shut up about Vladimir Putin’s election fraud” and “poisoning opponents? La, la, la. I can’t hear you.” It seems Russia is determined to deny the obvious and to justify the indefensible here. But that’s getting increasingly hard to do. And if you think “those bodies are actually actors” is as pathetic as it got, just listen to Rossiya-24’s ridiculous explanation.

This is how the preparation for performance, literally, of military actions in Ukraine is taking place. As you can see, it’s quite uncomplicated. Two people in military uniforms carefully wrap the mannequin with tape. Obviously, they are going to pass it off as a corpse.

John: Look, that’s clearly absurd. Not only are the Ukrainian casualties obviously real, that footage turned out to be part of a tv drama being filmed near St. Petersburg last month. And if you’re wondering which tv show, it’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. What can I say? Russian audiences really connect with the story of a woman forced to hallucinate a more joyful existence. And clearly, there will be more to say about the Ukrainian situation as it develops. But for now, let’s move to a much less consequential story, concerning OAN. The network with a logo that looks like it belongs on the side of a truck transporting refrigerator parts. We’ve talked about OAN a few times over the years, primarily because they were Trump’s favorite news outlet, as well as a perpetual source of misinformation about Covid and platform for pillow prince Mike Lindell’s election-fraud documentary “Absolute Proof.” And yes, I am using the word documentary there with christlike generosity. This was a big week for OAN, although not in a good way, as one of their anchors explained.

Come Monday, you will no longer see one America news on a certain satellite provider, which I will not mention because I don’t even like uttering their name out of my mouth.

John: Ah, yes, the hallmark of a great news network, bringing you hard hitting news stories without specifics because they make the anchor sad. Just so you know, the provider he’s referring to is DirectTV, which is a subsidiary of a parent company I will not mention because I don’t even like uttering their name out of my mouth. Interestingly, as of Friday, AT&T officially no longer owns us, so it’s goodbye from me, business daddy. Let me just say this, which is frankly two more bars than you’ve ever had. As we’ve mentioned before, AT&T was instrumental in OAN’s rise, with about 90% of its revenue reportedly generated from its AT&T and DirecTV deals. But this past week, OAN was finally dropped by the provider, and not a moment too soon. Its coverage of Ukraine in particular has been appalling, with this fucking guy suggesting that this bombing of a maternity hospital might have been a hoax.

So what’s the most recent story cooked up by the American Pravda? Well, it turns out that the Russians, democrats’ favorite adversary, blew up a hospital, killing several people, including a child. Perhaps war crimes are being committed, perhaps civilians are being murdered, but perhaps they aren’t.

John: Wow, it’s pretty maddening to watch neo-facist Vin Diesel there question civilian casualties with the tone of a stoned teenager talking about penguins. “Perhaps they’re wearing little bird tuxedos, but perhaps… They aren’t.” Now, losing distribution on DirecTV is clearly a big blow to OAN, and they’re not going out without a fight, as their owners are currently suing AT&T and DirectTV for $1 billion. Claiming at one point in the suit that AT&T breached a “non-disparagement provision” in their contract, because shows the company owned had been critical of them. And here’s where things get fun. Because it turns out, we’re actually in the lawsuit. It cites a number of things I said about OAN in the past, like the fact they’re Fox News with even less shame and even fewer scruples and a ragtag band of fascists who are happy to give a platform to batshit election fraud theories from America’s most out-of-breath pillow fetishist. And while I’m happy to have said all of those, I can’t believe they left out the fact that I also called this guy decaf pitbull just last year, and frankly, I want that entered into the legal record. And look, I do get they’re upset. Just as I get they’re an intellectually bankrupt organization, full of opportunistic grifters, who’ve done nothing but make this country a worse place. But perhaps this isn’t the time for that. And perhaps I’m sorry for taking joy in their misfortune and kicking them when they’re so clearly down. But on the other hand perhaps I’m not. And now this.

* * *

Announcer: And now things get uncomfortable on local news thanks to a terrible holiday.

Allegedly its national “Hug a Newsperson day.” I’m good.

I’m good.

Today is national hug a news person Dave.

Or don’t.

Jackie is there anyone you want to give a hug too?

I hate hug so much. I hate hugs so much. Today is national hug a news person day.

Don’t come up and hug somebody.

I don’t know you.

You made that up.

I did not make that out.

Where did you find it? Some bogus website?

What are you doing?

I am warming up my hugging muscles. Justin got one last hour.

* * *

John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns computers. There’s one in my house, one in my pocket and one on my wrist, and, fun fact, if they all broke at the same time, I’d die! More specifically, we’re going to talk about the fact that we’ve all had unsettling moments when it became clear that our computer was monitoring our activities a little more closely than we might like.

After financial planner Rod Laurenz opened a new office, he used a credit card to buy baby wipes to clean the place. He says after picking up just one canister, he was shocked to be bombarded with targeted online ads for other baby wipes and more children’s products, something this single guy around town says he’s definitely not interested in, at least not now.

John: Yes, it’s true. Poor rod got roped into the modern update of Hemingway’s classic story. “For sale. Baby shoes. Click here.” And of course Rod didn’t want that shit. He was a man about town! He was only interested in three things: getting laids, getting paids, and rocking the hell out of some wrap-around shades. We’ve all found ourselves being targeted by ads for something oddly specific, and thought, “how on earth did they know to show me that?” And tonight, we’re going to talk about who makes that possible: data brokers. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, encompassing everyone from credit-reporting companies, to these weird people-finding websites that pop up whenever you google the name of your friend’s sketchy new boyfriend, to these names you may never have heard of. But what all these companies have in common is, they collect your personal information and then resell or share it with others. As one expert puts it, they’re the “middlemen of surveillance capitalism.” Which sounds like both a horrific profession, and also, a b-plus Jake Gyllenhaal thriller. He’s not a spy. And he’s not a civilian. He’s… The middle man. And ladies? In this one, he shows trunk. And look, I know it’s not news that you get tracked online. In fact, roughly six in ten U.S. adults say they don’t think it’s possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them by companies or the government. Making four out of ten U.S. adults embarrassingly wrong. But this isn’t just about the convenience and/or irritation of targeted ads. Data brokers operate in a sprawling, unregulated ecosystem, which can get very creepy very fast.

The major U.S. retailer OfficeMax knew not only that Mike Seay’s daughter was dead but how she died.

It says, “Mike Seay, daughter killed in car crash or current business,” and this is my home. Why would they have that kind of information? Why would they need that?

John: Right, and obviously that’s completely appalling. But I will say, I’m not that surprised to me OfficeMax was behind that, as they are clearly not entirely on top of their shit. If you google OfficeMax, the “people also ask” questions include, and this is true, “is OfficeMax the same as Office Depot?” “Is OfficeMax and Staples the same?” And “does OfficeMax exist?” The truth is, when it comes to data brokers, they know significantly more about you than you might like, and do significantly more with it than you might think. So tonight let’s talk about the whole industry. And let’s start with how your information is collected. Basically every time you interact with society, you’re leaving breadcrumbs that can be gathered and sold. And much of this happens online, thanks in large part to cookies. Cookies were developed in the early days of the internet, and they’re actually one of the things that make it slightly better, a distinction they share with Henry Winkler’s Twitter feed and literally nothing else. What they essentially do is enable websites to remember you, they’re why Amazon remembers you put a $106 complete box set of the Mentalist in your cart after eating an unexpectedly strong weed gummy, even if you don’t. And if that’s all cookies did, it’d be fine. But the practice gradually evolved to include third-party cookies basically, companies other than the site that you’re on, planting a piece of code in your browser that allows them to track where else you’re going on the internet. Just watch as a tech writer explains what they found, when they tried to learn just how many companies were tracking them.

So I started the day on google and did a search. And nine trackers were downloaded onto my computer.

Trackers do what it sounds like they do. They track you. They can get my I.P. address or the device I’m using or the screen size. They were able to determine my location very precisely. Next, I went to HuffPo, and I was swarmed. The trackers kind of multiplied. There were dozens and dozens. And they’re just — the trackers are just kind of, you know, on my heels as I go around the web.

John: Yeah, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a whole crowd of strangers watching what I search for on the internet. Not because it’s gross, because it’s private. Private doesn’t have to mean gross. There’s nothing gross about looking up “are there any showerheads with a ‘contains pulp’ option?” I wouldn’t want it all the time, I wouldn’t need it all the time. That’s why it’s an option. The option to have some pulp. In the shower. It’s — can I finish? It’s a normal shower most of the time but occasionally I’ll have the option to get pelted with something that’s got some heft to it. Just some weighted chunks of whatever. Thwoomp. Thwoomp. Thwoomp. Something to wake me up and keep me on my toes. Sometimes I need it, don’t claim you don’t. We’d all love to pretend that the sun only rises in peacetime, but things being what they are we find ourselves again at war so, yeah, start my day and rock me with some juicy bits. That’s what I want. And I don’t want anyone watching me when I search to see how close we are to that particular technology existing. Because it’s private. But data brokers often take all the breadcrumbs they’ve gathered about you, pair them with other data they can obtain, and then share all of it with businesses who want to market to you. And they’ll frame this as a win-win. Here’s how Epsilon, one of the biggest data-broker firms, positions itself.

This is a person. So is this. Here’s another. And another. They all look and act different but people are fundamentally the same. They all want respect, protection, and an easier time getting the things they need from brands.

John: Right! The big three! It’s all in Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, people want their physiological needs met, their safety accounted for and their search history handed over directly to the Aflac Duck. Epsilon‘s ad even goes on to show how that particular service of theirs works, demonstrating how they can create a client ID for someone that contains everything they know about them, like the fact they’re a vegan and make $45,000 to $50,000 a year, or that they’re a 41-year-old male who’s married with kids at home and is googling “snow globe stuck in butt, what to do?” And once companies like Epsilon collect enough information about you, they can sort you into groups. Data broker firms sell lists with names like “couples with clout,” “ambitious singles,” “boomers and boomerangs,” “potlucks and the great outdoors,” “golf carts and gourmets,” and “kids and cabernet.” Those are all both “real names” of groups made by data brokers “and” as of now immediately-greenlit shows on TLC. Look, you might not care if a company wants to toss your data in a group called “kids and cabernet” so they can more effectively send you ads that make you seem like a bad mom in a fun way, but there’s also a dark side here. Because some companies can and do draw up even more narrowly targeted lists — like people with certain ailments, or sexual preferences — and then sell those lists to anyone who wants to buy them. And what they can buy is pretty troubling.

Wral bought thousands of names and addresses of local people with serious illnesses. This group living in the 26707 zip code have diabetes. These people in 26708 have cancer. These residents of 27609 have high blood pressure. And all of these locals battle depression. This list is moms-to-be.

So, we bought this data and it tells us you’re pregnant.


And you are?

I am. I am 18 weeks.

John: That’s pretty creepy. Isn’t it? I honestly did not think there could be a worse thing to ask a woman you don’t know than ‘are you pregnant?’ But “you are pregnant, wanna know who I paid to find out?” Has certainly entered the chat. And if you’re thinking, “but that’s illegal under HIPAA, right?” Well, no. As one researcher pointed out, the medical information you relay to your physician is highly protected, but if you go to a medical website and search for terms like HIV or abortion, that information is not protected at all. It’s a system that seems ripe for abuse, before you learn some data brokers have offered lists suffering seniors payday loan central — Hispanic, or even help needed, I am 90 days behind on bills. And some in the industry will insist they’d never put people at risk by selling their data. Remember Epsilon, the company that collects clouds of information about you? In 2014, their then CEO even went on “60 Minutes,” to reassure people that his business, in particular, operated in a completely above-board manner.

If there are abuses out there, we don’t believe those happen within our company. And we would be the first to raise our hand.

John: Oh, really? You’d be the first to raise your hand, would you? That’s interesting. Especially because last year, Epsilon settled with the DOJ for $150 million for facilitating elder fraud schemes, after admitting that it sold more than 30 million consumers’ data to clients who employees knew were carrying out scams. And they were doing it for nearly a decade. So I guess that guy really should’ve been doing that entire interview with his fucking hand in the air. And at this point, you may be thinking, “okay. I think I get it. I’m sufficiently creeped out, there is nothing more you need to tell me.” Hold on. What about the fact that apps on your phone can give away your exact location to third parties, sometimes without you knowing it? This free flashlight app settled with the FTC for doing just that. And they’re not alone. Take Life360, an app giving families the opportunity to keep track of one another. You may’ve seen their ads featuring parents looking relieved because they can see where their kids are going and know when they’ve safely reached their destination. Well, guess what?

A new report from the website the markup says that Life360 sells its location data to about a dozen different brokers who then sell it to marketers.

John: Yeah, it turns out they were selling location data to around twelve different brokers. It’s like those old commercials. It’s 10:00. Do you know where your children are? ‘Cause if so, same. And I have to tell you Life360 insists they’re no longer doing that, and that anyway, they’d “de-identified” their users’ data before selling it. That last claim is actually very common among both data brokers and the companies they work with, and it’s worth taking a look at. But while it sounds reassuring, the truth is, it can be incredibly easy to find out who’s behind a number or a code. One team of researchers even found that 99.98% of Americans would be correctly re-identified in any data set using just 15 demographic attributes, among them age, gender, and marital status. And the ease of de-anonymizing data is something we’ve actually known about for years.

In 2006, AOL turned over a bunch of these anonymized search records of their users to the public, and it only took a few short hours for a reporter to decode who user number number 4417749 was. Between searches for things like numb fingers, 60s single men, and dog that urinates on everything, the reporter uncovered a woman named Thelma Arnold. She was age 62.

John: Okay, I’m not saying it’s at all pleasant that that happened, but for the record I am glad that it introduced me to Thelma Arnold. Because I love that woman. She hasn’t given up despite her numb fingers, lackluster love life, and utterly broken dog. None of that’s stopping her from shooting her shot and looking for single men in her area. We stan a middle-aged queen with stamina. As we looked into this story, we constantly got reminders that none of us are really anonymous online. At one point, a researcher clicked on this company’s website — didn’t do anything else, just went there on his browser — ad later that day, got this email, saying they knew he visited, and that, “we offer a pretty cool service called Website Visitor Identification, which helps brands identify who’s browsing their website. In fact, it’s how we knew how to send you this quick email!” Which is just objectively unsettling. I don’t want anyone tracking what my staff members are doing online, mainly because I don’t want to know how many of them have looked up “what is John Oliver like?” And it’s not like data brokers are super-careful about who gets your sensitive information. You’ve already seen a local news station ambush a pregnant woman. And a few years ago, CBS bought some location data from brokers and it didn’t take much for them to find out whose it was, where they lived, and what they were doing.

No names or phone numbers were tied to the data, but it was easy to figure out who each phone belongs to based on where they spend their nights here in Greenwich. One phone pinged in the morning inside a $7 million mansion. The person then visited a country club before heading downtown and returning home.

John: Yeah, that doesn’t feel great, does it? Although that particular example isn’t that surprising to me. If you told me an individual woke up in a $7 million mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, and made me guess where they went next, I’d have gone with, “I dunno, a country club, downtown to hunt humans for sport, and then home again.” And I’d be pretty sure I was right. And the thing is, that kind of identifying information can cause huge problems. Just last year a priest was forced to resign after a catholic newsletter said it used app data signals from Grindr to monitor his activity, and matching his phone to his residence, essentially outing him, which is a massive, harmful invasion of privacy, and definitely the worst scandal ever to hit the catholic church. Also, quick side note here. Catholic church, are you absolutely sure Jesus was homophobic? Think about it. He had mutually respectful friendships with women, a distant relationship with his father, and when he found out he was going to be betrayed, he invited everyone to a confrontational dinner. It might be worth re-examining your thesis there. And you might still think: “I don’t care about this. My life’s an open book, I have no secrets, so data brokers can just have at it.” Even if that’s true for you, consider there are others out there who might have very good reasons to not want to be found.

Donna is a domestic violence victim. We’re protecting her identity. One of her addresses came up on a data broker site. She says that’s frightening.

If you have someone that’s tried to kill you, for them to be able to just type in your name and any known address that you’ve ever stayed in can pop up, it’s scary because now they know ways to start trying to find you.

John: Right. And that’s not just theoretical. It’s happened. In New Hampshire, a stalker killed a former classmate after finding her with information he’d bought from a data broker for $45. And if you have a stalker or you’re a victim of domestic violence, it’s understandable to want your information removed from these people search sites. Unfortunately, each has its own specific and sometimes very complex process of requesting the removal of information. And there’s no federal law requiring they honor an opt-out request at all. And the lack of regulation here doesn’t just benefit individuals who might mean you harm. It benefits the government too. Because it gives them a very attractive loophole to the fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Because under that, the government typically needs a warrant to collect information about you without your consent. But if it’s not forcing someone to turn over your data, if it’s simply buying it from a data broker, that’s apparently fine. No warrant necessary. You can see how valuable that would be to them. It happens all the time. In fact, federal agencies from the FBI to I.C.E. have purchased data without warrants, public disclosures, or robust oversight-to carry out everything from criminal investigations to deportations and the thing is, you might not know if your information has been supplied to the government by an app. Even the company behind the app might not know. Because it might sell your info to a broker, which then re-sells it to someone else, which then supplies it to the government. I’ll give you an example. A couple years back, vice found that the app Muslim Pro, which let Muslims know when to pray, had been selling user location data to a broker that supplied information to the U.S. Government. And while because the chain is so opaque, it’s hard to know what exactly was sold or what the government did with it, the app’s users were understandably pretty alarmed.

Feeling disturbed, appalled, but not surprised.

Sara Mostafavi used Muslim Pro. That app has since reportedly severed ties with its data partners.

So intrusive. You know, my conversation with god is not information the government needs.

John: Yeah, of course, it’s not information the government needs. There’s a reason the book wasn’t called, “are you there god, it’s me Margaret and homeland security’s on the line as well, hope that’s cool.” So to recap here. We’ve got shady data brokers with virtually no oversight collecting your data and building profiles that can track who you are, where you are and what you are most likely to do or buy. You can’t edit this dossier, and others, from cops to reporters to your own abusers, can find and use this information. It’s not a great situation. So what do we do? Well, it is a bit tricky, especially given the fact that entire economy of the internet right now is basically built on this practice. All the free stuff that you take for granted online is only free because you are the product. They make money by selling your data. But experts say there are some small steps that you can personally take. You can use web browsers like these to help better protect you against third-party tracking. And if you have an iPhone, you can go to the privacy menu, hit the tracking button and turn off “allow apps to request to track.” But this shouldn’t be your responsibility. Your privacy should be the default setting. And there should be legal fixes to this. Other countries have tried. The E.U. passed a law to force sites to disclose cookies and allow you to opt out. But I will say companies now often cleverly present those options in the most annoying way possible, with “accept all cookies” an easy default, but if you want to reject them, forcing you to go through multiple confusing steps for no clear reason, which is very smart to be honest. No one’s going to put in the work to reject cookies just to sneak a peak at an article titled “Five times Andrew Garfield just was.” You’d much rather hit “accept” and enjoy your remaining time on earth gazing at the most emotionally connected Spiderman to ever Splooge the Ooze. As for here in the U.S., individual states have tried to limit data brokers, but advocates say that what is really needed is a comprehensive federal privacy law governing them. This has been proposed for years now, but nothing’s happened, for a couple of key reasons. First, data broker spending on lobbying in 2020 rivaled that of Facebook and Google. But also, politicians now famously build their campaigns on data obtained from brokers. Both parties regularly boast about how much they use data. Just listen to former RNC chair Reince Preibus openly bragging about it.

Everything about almost every potential voter in Georgia is known. And it’s not even a joke, they — they know what beer they drink, what car they drive, how many kids they have, and all that data is used to target every single voter in Georgia.

John: It’s true. Politicians rely on data to be able to target our interests with pinpoint precision. Although therefore I do wonder why no presidential candidate has yet targeted me personally with ads promising to fight for the shower of morning chunks that I so richly deserve. I google it all the time, and you’d have my vote instantly. It’s very frustrating that the people who could do something about data brokers are so actively incentivized not to. But here is where we may be able to help. Because interestingly, the one time that Congress has acted quickly to safeguard people’s privacy was in the 1980s, when Robert Bork was nominated to the supreme court, and a reporter walked into a local video store and asked the manager whether he could have a peek at Bork’s video rental history, and he got it. As soon as Congress realized there was nothing stopping anyone from retrieving their video rental records too, they freaked the fuck out, and lo and behold, the video privacy protection act was passed with quite deliberate speed. So it seems when Congress’ own privacy is at risk, they somehow find a way to act. And it also seems like they’re not entirely aware just how easy it is for anyone — and I do mean anyone — to get their personal information, which brings me to me. Because in researching this story, we realized there’s any number of perfectly legal bits of fuckery that we could engage in. We could, for example, use data brokers to go fishing for members of Congress, by creating a demographic group consisting of men age 45 and up, in a five-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, who had previously visited sites regarding, or searched for terms including, divorce, massage, hair loss and midlife crisis. We could call that group “Congress and Cabernet,” and then target that list with ads that might attract those men to click, like, “marriage shouldn’t be a prison,” or “can you vote twice?” We could also throw in, “do you want to read Ted Cruz erotic fan fiction?” Just to see what would happen. And if anyone clicked, we’d be able to harvest even more data from them, which we could then theoretically take steps to de-anonymize. Now, am I saying that we’re actually going to do that? Collect all that raw information and store it in, let’s say, a Manila envelope somewhere? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. We are not going to do that. Why would we when we have already done it? Because all that raw data is currently right in here. And honestly, this whole exercise was fucking creepy. We ran those three targeted ads this week in the Capitol Hill area, and to give you a sense of just how many clicks we got… It was very much not zero. Do you want to see more? Because so do I! Please come with me. Let’s start. Let’s me start with the very first hit we got. It came at 3:35 pm on Tuesday afternoon from around the embassy row area, when a man fitting our description clicked on the Ted Cruz ad. Meaning we now have his IP address and device id, and also know that he did it on an Android phone. So we could now take steps to identify him. Just like we could with all these others who clicked on one of our ads in the Capitol Hill area this week, including at least three who may’ve been inside the Capitol building itself. One of whom clicked on the “can you vote twice?” ad, one of whom clicked on the divorce one, and another who clicked on the Ted Cruz erotic fiction, which was distressingly popular. And if you’re thinking, “how on earth is any of this legal?” I totally agree with you. It shouldn’t be. And if you happen to be a legislator who’s feeling a little nervous right now about whether your information is in this envelope and you’re terrified about what I might do with it, you might want to channel that worry into making sure that I cannot actually do anything. Anyway, sleep well.

That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. We’ll see you next week. Good night!


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