As we move around on the internet and in the real world, we are being continually tracked and profiled for the purpose of showing targeted advertising. In this report, we demonstrate how every time we use our phones, a large number of shadowy entities that are virtually unknown to consumers are receiving personal data about our interests, habits, and behaviour.
The actors, who are part of what we call the digital marketing and adtech industry, use this information to track us over time and across devices, in order to create comprehensive profiles about individual consumers. In turn, these profiles and groups can be used to personalize and target advertising, but also for other purposes such as discrimination, manipulation, and exploitation. Although the adtech industry operates across different media such as websites, smart devices, and mobile apps, we chose to focus on adtech in apps.
In order to expose how large parts of this vast industry works, we commissioned the cybersecurity company Mnemonic to perform a technical analysis of the data traffic from ten popular mobile apps. Because of the scope of tests, size of the third parties that were observed receiving data, and popularity of the apps, we regard the findings from these tests to be representative of widespread practices in the adtech industry.