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Data economics: Understanding and taming Big Tech

This document is highly work-in-progress, and I’d appreciate to hear from you. Contact me at @KKollnig or blog@kollnig.net, or leave a comment below.

Big Tech amass personal data at an unprecedented scale. This has unsettling consequences for individual privacy.

At the same time, Big Tech have a quasi-monopoly over digital services. They attract the majority of web traffic. This potentially restricts digital innovation.

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Lives at risk: Excessive data collection in apps

Last month, in January 2020, the Norwegian Consumer Council, an NGO, published a report on collection and sharing of personal data in popular apps. The reassuring title: “Out of Control: How Consumers Are Exploited by the Online Advertising Industry”.

On 186 pages, the researchers analysed the data practices of 10 popular Android apps. Amongst those apps: a children’s app, a period tracker, and various dating apps.

What they found was a blatant disregard for governing data protection legislation, notably the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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Online ads: Who decides what I see?

An article on real-time bidding and ad exchanges

On average, a person sees over 1 700 online ads per month. A significant proportion of these ads are disseminated using so-called real-time bidding (RTB). Whilst the entire online advertising market has a size of 240bn USD, RTB only attracted 5bn USD in spending (1.8%) in 2018. However, RTB is mainly used to sell low-quality ads on otherwise unused desktop and mobile display space. As a result, the proportion of RTB amongst the overall number of online ads may well be higher than 1.8%. Unfortunately, there are no figures readily available, with RTB being a rather new technology. Spread and novelty of RTB motivate a closer look.

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Untere Ruhrtalbahn: Durch Saarn und Umgebung

Die Untere Ruhrtalbahn ist eine ehemalige Eisenbahnstrecke, die den Bahnhof der Stadt Kettwig (seit 1975 Stadtteil von Essen) mit dem Bahnhof Mülheim-Styrum verband. Die Bahnstrecke wurde 1876 in Betrieb genommen und umfasste eine Länge von 14,7km (1435 mm Normalspur) bis zur Stilllegung in den 1970er Jahren.

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To European friendship: Till death us do part

This has been one of the darkest weeks of my time in the UK. I was there in 2016, around the time of the referendum, studying in Edinburgh under the EU exchange programme Erasmus.

I met Connor, with roots all over the UK, and my epitome for European friendship. Will others be able to have similar, rewarding experiences, and study within a Europe without borders? There seemed to be still hope.