Analytics

This is the data that you have no control over, and yet is used by organisations and researchers to understand you and your communities. Often claimed to be exclusive of your name and thus a lesser concern, it is nonetheless quite revealing and rarely are you given the opportunity to object. This means powerful organisations can gain deep insights into you and your lives, without ever asking you.

21 Apr 2020
The US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded a contract to build a database system, HHS Protect Now, to track the spread of the coronavirus across the US to the data-mining company Palantir. Palantir founder and investor Peter Thiel was US president Donald Trump's earliest and highest
12 Apr 2020
Palantir and the British AI start-up Faculty are data-mining large volumes of confidential UK patient information to consolidate government databases and build predictive computer models under contract to NHSx, the digital transformation arm of the UK's National Health Service. NHSx said the goal is
06 Mar 2020
The "safety guidance texts" sent by health authorities and district offices in South Korea are causing information overload and have included embarrassing revelations about infected people's private lives. A text may include, for example, a link to trace the movements of people who have recently
01 Nov 2019
A woman was killed by a spear to the chest at her home in Hallandale Beache, Florida, north of Miami, in July. Witness "Alexa" has been called yet another time to give evidence and solve the mystery. The police is hoping that the smart assistance Amazon Echo, known as Alexa, was accidentally
As early as 2008, the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE began helping Venezuela develop a system similar to the identity system used in China to track social, political, and economic behaviour. By 2018, Venezuela was rolling out its "carnet de la patria", a smart-card "fatherland" ID card that
In December 2018 Walmart was granted a patent for a new listening system for capturing and analysing sounds in shopping facilities. The system would be able to compare rustling shopping bags and cash register beeps to detect theft, monitor employee interactions with customers, and even listen to
16 Nov 2017
In 2017, US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it would seek to use artificial intelligence to automatically evaluate the probability of a prospective immigrant “becoming a positively contributing member of society.” In a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary
10 Aug 2017
In the lead up to the German elections, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) created a mobile app, Connect 17, which was designed to create a feedback loop between party headquarters and door-to-door volunteers (also known as canvassers). The app drew on data from the federal statistics
21 Nov 2017
Before and after the Italian election on 4 March 2018, concerns were raised about the spread of misinformation, disinformation and inflammatory content through a network of news sites and Facebook pages. In November 2017, in the run up to the election, Buzzfeed reported on links between a large
19 Jun 2018
In an experiment conducted by Fabio Chiusi and Claudio Agosti during the 2018 election season and set out in detail in their report for Tactical Tech, the duo sought to investigate the Facebook algorithm that powers users’ news feed and the algorithm’s treatment of political content. One of the
05 May 2018
In May 2018, Slice Technologies, which provides the free Unroll.me email management service in return for data-mining individuals' email inboxes, announced it would discontinue offering its service in Europe rather than comply with the incoming General Data Protection Regulation. Unroll.me's privacy
20 Aug 2018
In August 2018 the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first over-the-counter digital contraceptive, an app called Natural Cycles. The app, which analyses basal body temperature readings and monthly menstruation data to determine whether unprotected sex is likely to lead to pregnancy
16 Oct 2018
In October 2018, researcher Johannes Eichstaedt led a project to study how the words people use on social media reflect their underlying psychological state. Working with 1,200 patients at a Philadelphia emergency department, 114 of whom had a depression diagnosis, Eichstaedt's group studied their
09 Jul 2018
In 2018, economists Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business showed that national divisions are so entrenched that details of what Americans buy, do, and watch can be used to predict, sometimes with more than 90% accuracy, their politics, race, income
08 May 2018
In 2018, based on an analysis of 270,000 purchases between October 2015 and December 2016 on a German ecommerce site that sells furniture on credit, researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research found that variables such as the type of device could be used to estimate the likelihood that a
13 Dec 2017
In 2017, Britain's' two biggest supermarkets, Tesco and Sainsbury's, which jointly cover 45% of the UK's grocery market, announced they would offer discounts on car and home insurance based on customers' shopping habits. For example, based on data from its Nectar card loyalty scheme, Sainsbury's
29 Jun 2018
On the night of June 23, 2016, as the polls closed Britain's Sky News broadcast what sounded like a concession statement from Nigel Farage, the leader of the campaign to leave the EU, plus a YouGov exit poll indicating that the country had voted to remain; over an hour later, Farage reiterated his
09 Oct 2018
In October 2018 Amazon patented a new version of its Alexa virtual assistant that would analyse speech to identify signs of illness or emotion and offer to sell remedies. The patent also envisions using the technology to target ads. Although the company may never exploit the patent, the NHS had
07 Jul 2018
In a 2018 interview, the Stanford professor of organisational behaviour Michal Kosinski discussed his research, which included a controversial and widely debunked 2017 study claiming that his algorithms could distinguish gay and straight faces; a 2013 study of 58,000 people that explored the
06 Sep 2018
Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the New York City Police Department installed thousands of CCTV cameras and by 2008 in partnership with Microsoft had built the Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center to consolidate its video surveillance operations into a single command centre that also
17 Sep 2018
In 2018, at least five British local authorities began developing systems intended to use predictive analytics to identify families needing attention from child services on the basis that algorithmic profiling could help them target their scarce resources more efficiently. Data about at least 377
23 Aug 2018
Facebook-owned Onavo VPN (adertised as a way to block harmful websites, and keep a user's data safe) is pulled from the Apple App Store due to tracking, collecting, and analysing customers' usage data, including from other unrelated apps. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/08/facebook-violates
30 Aug 2012
In 2012 the US Consumer Watchdog advocacy group filed a complaint against Google alleging that the company had violated its 2011 consent decree with the US Federal Trade Commission in the case about Google Buzz. The complaint was based on February 2012 revelations that the site was failing to honour
25 Jan 2012
In 2012, Google announced it would condense 70 different privacy policies into a single one that would allow the company to merge the data collected across all its services, including Maps, search, Android, Books, Chrome, Wallet, Gmail, and the advertising service provided by its DoubleClick
02 Apr 2009
Google launched its first version of Android in 2009. Based on a modified Linux kernel and other open source software, Android provides the operating system for mobile phones, tablets, televisions, cars, wrist watches, and many other devices including digital cameras, game consoles, PCs, and
30 May 2005
In 2005, Google launched its web analytics service, which tracks and reports website traffic. The most widely-used analytics service on the web, Google Analytics comes in three versions: free, the subscription enterprise service 360, and a mobile service that collects analytics from both iOS and
28 Feb 2018
As part of its attempt to keep its 40,000 drivers operating on the streets of London after Transport for London ruled in October 2017 it was not "fit and proper" to run a taxi service, Uber has promised to share its anonymised data on travel conditions and journey times. TfL said in February 2018
The accuracy of Facebook's ad targeting sometimes leads users to believe that Facebook is spying on them by tapping the microphones in their phones. Facebook has denied the practice - and is likely telling the truth because uploading and scanning the amount of audio data such a system would involve
In 2015, the University of Arizona began tracking freshman students’ ID card swipes as part of a project to try to lower the rate at which students drop out or leave for another university. The cards, which include an embedded sensor and are given to all students, can be read at almost 700 locations
The Danish company Blip Systems deploys sensors in cities, airports, and railway stations to help understand and analyse traffic flows and improve planning. In the UK's city of Portsmouth, a network of BlipTrack sensors was installed in 2013 by VAR Smart CCTV, and the data it has collected is used
Reporter Kashmir Hill tested life in a smart home by adding numerous connected devices. The self-heating bed gave her daily reports on whether she'd reached her "sleep goal". She liked the convenience of the voice-activated lights, coffee maker, and music, the ability to convey a message to a
In 2016, Facebook and its photo-sharing subsidiary Instagram rolled out a new reporting tool that lets users anonymously flag posts that suggest friends are threatening self-harm or suicide. The act of flagging the post triggers a message from Instagram to the user in question offering support
20 Feb 2018
In 2018, pending agreement from its Institutional Review Board, the University of St Thomas in Minnesota will trial sentiment analysis software in the classroom in order to test the software, which relies on analysing the expressions on students' faces captured by a high-resolution webcam
In February 2018 the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions, giving it access to the company's giant database of billions of license plate records, which can be searched to produce every place a given license plate has been seen in the last five years
The story began with the free Bylock messaging app, which was used between 2014 and 2016 and which the Turkish government associated with treason and followers of Fethullah Gülen, the group they believe was behind the attempted 2016 coup. The app was downloaded roughly half a million times and had
15 Jan 2018
Modern vehicles are networks of sophisticated computers on wheels that can collect more intimate data about ourselves and our lives than smartphones do. The agreements covering nearly every new vehicle that is leased or sold in the US often now include a clause permitting the manufacturer to monitor
The first signs of the combination of AI and surveillance are beginning to emerge. In December 2017, the digital surveillance manufacturer IC Realtime, launched a web and app platform named Ella that uses AI to analyse video feeds and make them instantly searchable - like a Google for CCTV. Company
28 Feb 2018
In February 2018 Uber and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio announced the Cincinnati Mobility Lab, a three-year-partnership that will allow the city and the surrounding area in northern Kentucky to use Uber data for transport planning. Cincinnati, like many cities, is anxious to identify the impact of
02 Jan 2018
In February 2018 the Canadian government announced a three-month pilot partnership with the artificial intelligence company Advanced Symbolics to monitor social media posts with a view to predicting rises in regional suicide risk. Advanced Symbolics will look for trends by analysing posts from 160
02 Jun 2010
In 2010, Apple's then-CEO Steve Jobs revealed that the reason his company changed the rules in the written agreement it requires iPhone app developers to sign was due to a report published by the vice-president of the app analytics company Flurry, Peter Farago. In one of its monthly reports on app
29 Jan 2018
In November 2017, San Francisco-based Strava, maker of a GPS-enabled fitness app, published a heat map showing the activity of all its 27 million users around the world. Upon outside examination, the data visualisation, which was built from 1 billion activities and 3 trillion data points covering 27
In 2014, the UK suicide prevention group The Samaritans launched Radar, a Twitter-based service intended to leverage the social graph to identify people showing signs of suicidal intent on social media and alert their friends to reach out to offer them help. The app was quickly taken offline after
19 Dec 2014
In 2014, researchers at Princeton University outlined an attack that uses multiple third-party cookies to link traffic so that individual users can be identified and tracked from anywhere in the world. A nation-state wishing to surveil particular users outside its jurisdiction, for example, may have
28 Dec 2017
In 2016, the US Federal Trade Coimmission issued a warning to app developers that had installed Silverpush, software that uses device microphones to listen for audio signals inaudible to the human ear that identify the television programmes they are watching. Nonetheless, similar technology
30 Nov 2017
A report for the US National Academy of Sciences explains the methods used by a team of computer scientists to derive accurate, neighbourhood-level estimates of the racial, economic, and political characteristics of 200 US cities using the images collected by Google Street View in 2013 and 2014. The
11 Jan 2018
In 2017, a study claimed to have shown that artificial intelligence can infer sexual orientation from facial images, reviving the kinds of claims made in the 19th century about inferring character from outer appearance. Despite widespread complaints and criticisms, the study, by Michal Kosinski and
17 Dec 2017
"To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?" Netflix tweeted in December 2017. While the tweet did not contain any information that could have identified any of the 53 people, it still made many of those who saw it uncomfortable. A Christmas
Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google's owner), has signed a deal with the Canadian city of Toronto to redevelop the brownfield Quayside waterfront district and turn it into a technology hub. The deal raises three sets of issues. First (The Guardian) is the essential privatisation of
Researchers at Princeton University have shown that a vulnerability identified 11 years ago in the password managers built into web browsers can be exploited to allow third parties to track users across more than a thousand websites. The attack depends on the managers' autofill capability, and works
22 Jul 2017
Scientists at MIT have created an algorithm called "EQ Radio" that detects and measures individual heartbeats and therefore individuals' emotions by bouncing radio frequency signals - such as ordinary wifi- off of people. The algorithm works the same as an electrocardiogram but needs no leads to be
20 Apr 2017
Using anonymised data GPS data from mobile devices, primarily smart phones, SafeGraph concluded that the crowds attending the US presidential inauguration in January 2016 make significantly less money than attendees of the Women's March two months later. The income level estimates were made possible
25 Nov 2017
A recent study from the Yale Privacy lab and Exodus Privacy founds dozens of invasive trackers hidden in common Android apps. However, the method the researchers used, which involved writing code to expose the internal workings of the devices they tested, is legally barred under the US Digital
24 Apr 2017
Widespread controversy resulted when users discovered in April 2017 that the little-known data company Slice Intelligence was passing anonymised data derived from scanning users' email inboxes to the ride-hailing company Uber. The story illustrates both the power of anonymous data and the complex
Websites have long used third-party analytics scripts to collect information about how visitors use their sites. In November 2017, researchers at Princeton found that an increasing number of sites use "session replay" scripts that collect every action the user performs while on the site, including
Among the friends Facebook recommended to Kashmir Hill as people she might know was Rebecca Porter, to the best of her knowledge a total stranger. Because Hill was studying how the "black box" of Facebook recommendations worked, she contacted Porter to ask what the connection might be. To her
21 Aug 2017
Sonos, which makes connected home sound systems, has told its customers that they will not be able to opt out of a new privacy policy launched in August 2017 that allows the company to begin collecting audio settings, errors, and other account data. Customers can opt out of sending some types of
10 Nov 2017
Owners of the Hong Kong-based sex toy company Lovense's vibrators who installed the company's remote control app were surprised to discover that the app was recording user sessions without their knowledge. They had authorised the app to use the phone's built-in microphone and camera, but only for
The Dutch data protection authority has found that Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system breaches Dutch law by processing personal data of the system's users without informing them clearly about what type of data the company uses and for what purpose. In addition, users cannot give valid consent
04 Sep 2016
A pregnancy-tracking app collected basic information such as name, address, age, and date of last period from its users. A woman who miscarried found that although she had entered the miscarriage into the app to terminate its tracking, the information was not passed along to the marketers to which
12 Jan 2016
In 2016 reports surfaced that bricks-and-mortar retailers were beginning to adopt physical-world analogues to the tracking techniques long used by their online counterparts. In a report, Computer Sciences Corporation claimed that about 30% of retailers were tracking customers in-store via facial
08 Sep 2016
The "couples vibrator" We-Vibe 4 Plus is controlled via a smartphone app connected to the device via Bluetooth. In 2016, researchers revealed at Defcon that the devices uses its internet connectivity to send information back to its manufacturer including the device's temperature, measured every
12 Feb 2016
Caucuses, which are used in some US states as a method of voting in presidential primaries, rely on voters indicating their support for a particulate candidate by travelling to the caucus location. In a 2016 Marketplace radio interview, Tom Phillips, the CEO of Dstillery, a big data intelligence
11 Dec 2015
In what proved to be the first of several years of scandals over the use of personal data in illegal, anti-democratic campaigning, in 2015 the Guardian discovered that Ted Cruz's campaign for the US presidency paid at least $750,000 that year to use tens of millions of profiles of Facebook users
18 Aug 2016
In a presentation given at the Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference in 2016, researchers discussed a method of using the data generated by smart card public transport tickets to catch pickpockets. In a study of 6 million passenger movements in Beijing, the researchers used a classifier to
20 May 2015
Over the course of a few seconds in April 2013, a false tweet from a hacked account owned by the Associated Press is thought to have caused the Dow-Jones Industrial Average to drop 143.5 points and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index to lose more than $136 in value. The tweet was retweeted 4,000 times
22 May 2015
In 2015, the Carrefour supermarket in Lille installed a system of LED lights designed by Philips that send special offers and location data to customers' smartphones. Using the system, customers who install an app can use their smartphone camera to detect all the promotions around them or search for
19 Mar 2013
The Satellite Sentinel Project, a constellation of high-powered satellites trained to find atrocities on the ground with a half-metre resolution, was set up in 2009 to find human rights abuses in the conflict in Sudan. Conceived by former Clinton administration State department staffer John
24 Jan 2014
In 2014, DataKind sent two volunteers to work with GiveDirectly, an organisation that makes cash donations to poor households in Kenya and Uganda. In order to better identify villages with households that are in need, the volunteers developed an algorithm that classified village roofs in satellite
27 Jun 2015
A 2015 study by The Learning Curve found that although 71% of parents believe technology has improved their child's education, 79% were worried about the privacy and security of their child's data, and 75% were worried that advertisers had access to that data. At issue is the privacy and security
24 Apr 2016
As part of its Smart Nation programme, in 2016 Singapore launched the most extensive collection of data on everyday living ever attempted in a city. The programme involved deploying myriad sensors and cameras across the city-state to comprehensively monitor people, places, and things, including all
25 Dec 2015
In 2015, the Royal Parks conducted a covert study of visitors to London's Hyde Park using anonymised mobile phone signals provided by the network operator EE to analyse footfall. During the study, which was conducted via government-funded Future Cities Catapult, the Royal Parks also had access to
23 Feb 2016
A 2016 study from the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation found that in 95% of cases it takes as few as four of the apps users have installed on their smartphones to reidentify them within a dataset. Based on a study of 54,893 Android users over seven months, the
10 Mar 2016
In 2016, Spanish Jose Carlos Norte, the chief technology officer at Telefonica subsidiary EyeOS, used the scanning software Shodan to find thousands of publicly exposed telematics gateway units. TGUs are small radio-enabled devices that are attached to industrial vehicles so their owners can track
30 Nov 2015
A 2015 study carried out in Rwanda and published in the journal Science used mobile phone records to study the distribution of wealth and poverty in an attempt to fill in the gap left by the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics. A rought idea of geographic location was derived from
09 Oct 2015
In 2015, Ant Financial, a Chinese company affiliated with Alibaba, began deploying "Sesame Credit scores". Ant, which also runs the popular payment app Alipay, claims that it uses both online and offline purchasing and spending habits to calculate a credit worthiness score for each of its more than
21 Jul 2016
In the past, car insurers relied on drivers to report their annual mileage when renewing their policies. Increasingly, however, insurers are turning to other methods. In 2016, State Farm, a US insurance company, acknowledged that the company verifies the mileage driven by the cars it insures in a
28 Jun 2016
In 2016, Facebook gave conflicting accounts of whether the service uses location data in order to recommend prospective Friends in its "People You May Know" feature. When the company first admitted - for publication - that location data was indeed one of the signals it used, many users felt this
03 Mar 2016
In 2016, researchers affiliated with Verto Analytics and the Qatar Computing Research Institute published work in which they analysed the app usage and demographics of more than 3,700 people in order to find correlations. Based on the models they developed, they found they could predict a user's
10 May 2016
In 2016, VICE News discovered that the confidential and "shadowy" World-Check database, which has wrongly linked individuals to terrorist activity, was being widely used by British police and intelligence. Also a customer is the Charity Commission, which uses it to screen charities and aid
04 Jan 2016
In 2016, the US's third-largest property and casualty insurer, Liberty Mutual, announced it would partner with Subaru to enable drivers who have bought Subaru's Starlink infotainment system to download a car app that will notify them if they are accelerating too aggressively or braking too hard. The
30 Jan 2016
By 2016, a logical direction for data-driven personalisation efforts to go was toward the "Internet of Emotions": equipping devices with facial, vocal, and biometric sensors that use affective computing to analyse and influence the feelings of device owners. Of particular concern is the potential
14 May 2015
In 2015, Chinese authorities banned the 1.6 million members of the country's People's Liberation Army from using smartwatches and other wearable technology in order to prevent security breaches. Army leaders announced the decision after a soldier in the city of Nanjing was reported for trying to use
03 Apr 2016
At the 2016 Usenix conference, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) presented a system called Chronos that could use wifi signals to detect the position of a person or object inside a room to within tens of centimetres. MIT claimed Chronos was 20 times more accurate
28 Jul 2016
In 2016, when Australia was planning to introduce a new welfare system based on data collection, experts from New Zealand, where a similar system was set up in 2012, warned that experience showed that the most vulnerable people were checking out of any relationship with the state. They warned, for
27 Apr 2011
As GPS began being increasingly incorporated into smartphones, satnav manufacturers like the Dutch company TomTom were forced to search for new revenue streams. In 2011, TomTom was forced to apologise when the Dutch newspaper AD reported that the company had sold driving data collected from
21 Sep 2016
In 2016, researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory developed a new device that uses wireless signals that measure heartbeats by bouncing off a person's body. The researchers claim that this system is 87% accurate in recognising joy, pleasure, sadness, or anger
08 May 2016
Twitter requested one of its key B2B partners, Dataminr — a service that offers advanced social media analytics and early detection of major events like terrorist attacks or natural disasters — stop providing U.S. intelligence agencies with their tools and content. Dataminr isn’t ending its
23 Mar 2016
In 2016, the Big Data lab at the Chinese search engine company Baidu published a study of an algorithm it had developed that it claimed could predict crowd formation and suggested it could be used to warn authorities and individuals of public safety threats stemming from unusually large crowds. The
21 Apr 2016
According to the US security firm Statfor the Chinese government has been builsing a system to analyse the massive amounts of data it has been collecting over the past years. The company claims: "The new grid management system aims to help the Chinese government act early to contain social unrest