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.


01 Feb 2011
The DWP relies on anti-fraud officers who go and spy on benefit claimants to verify their claims. For instance, claimants who declare that they are a lone parent may end up with an officer trying to verify there is no one else living in the house. And once they are confident that the alleged lone
30 Mar 2011
In 2010, increasing adoption of social media sites such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr led Google to develop Buzz, an attempt to incorporate status updates and media-sharing into its Gmail service. Users could link their various social media feeds, including Picasa (Google's photo-sharing
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
01 Jul 2011
In June 2011, Facebook enabled an automatic facial recognition called "Tag Suggestions" based on its research project DeepFace, requiring users who objected to opt out. The feature scanned the faces in newly uploaded photographs and compared them to those in the billions of images already on the
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
16 Jun 2012
In 2012, Acxiom's database was reported to be the largest commercial database on consumers in the world, containing approximately 1,500 data points, or "elements", for each of the 500 million active consumers worldwide and processing more than 50 trillion data transactions per year. Each of the
18 Jul 2012
Research from the Brennan Center shows minorities are primarily affected by new laws that restrict citizens access to voting through ID requirement, increased distance to polling station, inconvenient opening hours and hidden costs. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/18/voter-id-poor-black
21 Jul 2012
The State is not always the only actor involved in the surveillance of benefits claimants. Often those practices are encouraged, facilitated or conducted by private companies. South Africa for instance mandated MasterCard to help distribute benefits through biometric debit cards. https://www
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
10 Oct 2012
In October 2012, Equifax agreed to a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission over charges that between January 2008 and early 2010 the company improperly sold lists of consumers who were late on their mortgage payments in violation of the FTC Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Equifax
18 Dec 2012
In December 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into data brokers' privacy practices, requesting information from nine companies: Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future. The FTC sought information about: the
04 Feb 2013
In 2013, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney found that racial discrimination pervades online advertising delivery. In a study, she found that searches on black-identifying names such as Revon, Lakisha, and Darnell are 25% more likely to be served with an ad from Instant Checkmate offering a
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
29 Apr 2013
In 2013, companies like Tapad developed new "cross-screen marketing" techniques to allow them to expand from tracking desktop computer users across the web to targeting them as they moved to smartphones and tablets. Cookies - small bits of code deposited on computers - do not work as well on mobile
12 May 2013
In 2013, Twitter announced it would partner with numerous advertising companies including Quantcast and Oracle's BlueKai to create "tailored audiences". Twitter claims the service anbles advertisers to define targeted groups of current and prospective customers who have "shown interest" in their
02 Aug 2013
In August 2013, a jury in the Portland, Oregon Federal District Court awarded Julie Miller $18.4 million in punitive damages when despite two years of complaints and filings Equifax failed to rectify errors in her credit report that blocked many aspects of her financial life. Miller had followed the
04 Sep 2013
In 2013, 44 years after Acxiom went into business selling consumer data, the company opened a website, aboutthedata.com, to allow Americans to see the data the company holds about them and make it easier to opt out of tracking. However, using the site requires visitors to input a substantial amount
21 Sep 2013
In 2012, when the French company Criteo filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public, it cited its data assets and the accuracy of its algorithms as a crucial part of its valuation. The company said that every day it was presented with billions of opportunities to connect
13 Oct 2013
In 2013, detailed personal information being sold by the fraudster-friendly underground service Superget.info was found to have been bought from CourtVentures, a public records aggregator bought by Experian in 2012. In late 2013, Superget.info's operator, 24-year-old Vietnamese national Ngô Minh
02 Nov 2013
In Israel, the National Insurance Institutes sends out anti-fraud officers to spy on benefits claimants. Among the cases reported, a woman had her benefits allowances halved after a man entered her house pretending to be interested in buying the flat next door. The man, who was in fact a NII