Examples of Abuse

Almost everyday a company or government abuses your data. Whether these abuses are intentional or the result of error, we must learn from these abuses so that we can better build tomorrow's policies and technologies. This resource is an opportunity to learn that this has all happened before, as well as a tool to query these abuses.

Please contact us if you think we are missing some key stories.


23 Nov 2009
The rise of social media has also been a game changer in the tracking of benefits claimants. Back in 2009, the case of Nathalie Blanchard a woman in Quebec who had lost her disability insurance benefits for depression because she looked “too happy” on her Facebook pictures had made the news. https:/
01 Mar 2019
In London, four boroughs have been trialling the London Counter Fraud Hub. The hub is designed to process huge quantities of data from millions of household to detect certain types of fraud involving the single person council tax discount (in London, a person living alone gets a reduced rate on
17 Feb 2019
The National Board of Scholarships and School Aid (Junaeb) in Chile was also heavily criticised for its use of facial recognition programmes to deliver meals at thirty schools in three cities across the country. After the Supreme Court requested in 2017 that the system must not be applied without
07 Sep 2015
In Mexico, people registered as beneficiaries of any programmes led by the Ministry of Social Development could obtain a TV set, as part of the transition from analogue to digital TV organised by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation. Yet, the Ministry of Communications and
02 May 2017
In Bangladesh, as part of the USAID and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported programme “a2i” (Access to Information), the government has built a system to allow citizens to receive their welfare payment on a pre-paid debit card given to them at the Bangladesh Post Office after having been
16 Apr 2019
In Ireland benefits claimants are expected to register for a Public Services Card (PSC) in order to access benefits. PSC users are expected to have their photographs taken in department offices, which is then digitally captured along with their signature. While this card was originally created to
01 Nov 2017
Cases of people being denied healthcare as they fail to provide an Aadhaar number have already started emerging. A 28-year old domestic worker, for instance, had to be hospitalised for a blood transfusion after she had an abortion with an unqualified local physician. She had been denied an abortion
12 Jul 2018
While not currently mandatory to access healthcare services, Aadhaar is however increasingly used in the health sector as well. In 2018, the health ministry had to issue a statement to clarify that Aadhaar was “desirable” but not a must to access a 5 rupee insurance cover for hospitalisation under
01 May 2018
In India, one of the reasons the Aadhaar ID system has been increasingly widely used is that it is mandatory for much India’s benefits system. Government subsidies are now processed through under the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme, which requires citizens to have a bank account and to insure that
10 Jan 2018
In this review of Virginia Eubanks's book Automating Inequality, the author of the review looks at the three main case studies Eubanks explores in her book: the attempt to automate and privatise the welfare system elligibility management in the state of Indiana in 2006, the use of a coordinated
11 Dec 2013
In this 2013 piece, Virginia Eubanks discuss the move in Indiana from relying on caseworkers to automating the distribution of benefits and how through the use of performance metrics to speed up the decision-making process, the system ended up being incentivising the non-distribution of benefits
24 Jul 2018
In this interview (podcast and transcript) Virginia Eubanks discuss three case studies from her book Automating Inequality to illustrate how technology and data collection negatively impact people in vulnerable situation. The (failed) attempt to automate and privatise the welfare system elligibility
04 Apr 2018
In the United States, monitoring efforts to combat public benefits fraud are often part of a broader approach that focuses on stigmatizing people receiving benefits and reducing their number, rather than ensuring that the maximum number of people who are eligible receive benefits. However, fraud
21 Dec 2017
In the United States, while everyone is surveilled not every is equal when it comes to surveillance. Factors including poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status will affect how much you end up being surveilled. This reality has a punitive effect on poor people and their families and
22 Jan 2019
The vast majority of public benefits programs in the United States—Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Housing Assistance—do not take the
The first conditional cash transfer program in a higher-income country was trialled in the United States by Mayor Bloomberg in New York City from April 2007 to August 2010. Known as Opportunity NYC-Family Rewards, the privately funded pilot program transferred cash rewards to families who were able
15 Jan 2014
Virginia Eubanks explains what we can draw from understanding the experience of surveillance of marginalised groups: it is a civil rights issue, technologies carry the bias of those who design them, people are resisting and why we need to move away from the privacy rights discourse. https://prospect
06 Feb 2018
In this interview with Virginia Eubanks, the author highlights how electronic benefit transfer cards have become tracking devices and how data exploitation used to restrict access to welfare. https://www.vox.com/2018/2/6/16874782/welfare-big-data-technology-poverty Author: Sean Illing Publication
21 Mar 2014
This article is an overview of some of the research documenting how people in vulnerable positions are the ones most affected by government surveillance. https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/technology-opportunity-researcher-says-surveillance-separate-and-unequal Author: Kimberly
08 May 2018
For US citizens who can access benefits, many states use electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which function like debit cards, to distribute benefits. As of 2015, at least 37 states issued Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits, also known as welfare, through EBT cards. http://www.ncsl