Most US adults (77%) have heard something about how companies use the personal data they collect and most (81%) think the potential risks outweigh the benefits – a view that tends to be supported by the behaviour of parts of the adtech industry.

A Pew Research Center survey of 4,272 US adults also revealed that very few Americans understand what is being done with the data collected about them: only 6% claimed to understand a great deal about what is done with the data collected by companies, while 59% understood very little or nothing.

That lack of understanding also means people don’t see any personal benefits resulting from the accumulation of all that data. Just 5% of adults said they personally benefit ‘a great deal’ from the data companies collect about them, while 23% felt they had ‘some’ benefit; but half (49%) reported ‘very little’ personal benefit and 23% ‘none’.

And without a countervailing narrative and greater transparency in the adtech industry, they may be justified in thinking this way. A recent Financial Times investigation found that popular health websites in the UK were sharing sensitive personal data with the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon, sometimes in a way that allowed the information to be tied to an individual.

Google told the FT that particular sites had been marked as “sensitive” internally – meaning the information sent to them was excluded from the database used for personalised advertising, although it added that contextual ads based on the contents of the page being viewed might be served.

The tech giant has subsequently announced that it will limit advertiser access to contextual content categories in order to “avoid the risk that any participant in our auctions is able to associate individual ad identifiers with Google’s contextual content categories”.

The move was dismissed by Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer at Brave. “It appears Google will still broadcast bid requests that contain things like URL, approximate location and data to link these over time, to countless companies, billions of times a day,” he told the FT. “These data contain personal and special category data so this appears to be a cosmetic change.”

Brave meanwhile has officially launched Brave 1.0, an open-source browser that automatically blocks third-party ads and trackers and offers its own solution in the form of Brave Ads which, The Verge reported, can be targeted to the user, but none of the user’s information will leave the browser. Users can opt in to view these ads and get paid in the form of blockchain tokens which can be cashed in, exchanged for gifts or used to support favourite sites and creators. 

Sourced from Pew research Centre, Financial Times, The Verge; additional content by WARC staff