John Oliver Blackmails Congress To Pass Consumer Data Legislation

By Montclair Film - NEG_8706, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88429181

“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver blackmailed Congress to pass legislation protecting consumers’ data by leveraging their own. 

Oliver tackled the topic of data brokers, who are responsible for collecting consumers’ personal information to “resell or share it with others.”

He noted that he knows “it is not news” that Americans are tracked online, “but this just isn’t 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 HBO star explained that advocates have been pushing for a “comprehensive federal privacy law” to govern data brokers for years, but politicians “famously build their campaigns on data obtained by brokers,” and rely on it to “target our interests with pinpoint precision.”  

“It is very frustrating that the people who could do something about data brokers are so actively incentivized not to,” so Oliver decided to get “very creepy” with Congress himself.

He pointed towards “the one time Congress has acted quickly to safeguard people’s privacy,” in the 1980’s, when a reporter accessed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental history and the Video Privacy Protection Act was passed. 

“So it seems when Congress’s own privacy is at risk, they somehow find a way to act,” Oliver smirked. “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.” 

Oliver realized he and his staff could exploit “perfectly legal bits of f–kery” to have data brokers target Congress members in a group named “Congress Cabernet.”  

“We could, for example, use data brokers to go phishing for members of congress, by creating a demographic group consisting of men, age 45 and up, in a 5-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, who had previously visited sites regarding or searched for terms including divorce, massage, hair loss and mid-life crisis,” he said gleefully. 

They then targeted the group with fake ads including “Marriage shouldn’t be prison,” and “Do you want to read Ted Cruz erotic fanfiction,” which was the first ad that was clicked on.  

Oliver collected the information in a manilla envelope and noted he had the IP address and device ID of the person who clicked through the ad, “so we could now take steps to identify him.”

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