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New book “Networks of Control”

Two Austrian privacy researchers have conducted a comprehensive study about corporate surveillance, digital tracking, Big Data and privacy. Their detailed report shows, how networks of companies are collecting, analyzing, sharing and making use of vast amounts of personal information about billions of people today. The book is published by Vienna-based Facultas and available from September 29, 2016.

Networks of Control
A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data & Privacy
by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann
Publisher: Facultas, Vienna. Pages: 165. Language: English.
On sale: September 29, 2016. Price: € 19.
ISBN 978-3-7089-1473-2

“having such a collection of examples in one place is really exciting”
Anna Fielder, chair of Privacy International

The collection, analysis and utilization of digital information based on our clicks, swipes, likes, purchases, movements, behaviors and interests have become part of everyday life. While individuals become increasingly transparent, companies take control of the recorded data in an often nontransparent and unregulated way.

In their book, Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann explain how today’s networks of corporate surveillance are constantly tracking, profiling, categorizing, rating and affecting the lives of billions – across platforms, devices and life contexts. While special interest groups are aware of the corporate use of personal data for a while now, the full degree and scale of personal data collection, use and – in particular – abuse has not been scrutinized closely enough. This is the gap that is closed with this book entitled “Networks of Control – A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data & Privacy”.

Based on detailed examples their comprehensive report answers the following questions:

  • Who are the players in today’s personal data business? How do online platforms, tech companies and data brokers really collect, share and make use of personal information?

  • Which data is recorded by smartphones, fitness trackers, e-readers, smart TVs, connected thermostats and cars? Will the Internet of Things lead to ubiquitous surveillance?

  • What can be inferred from our purchases, calls, messages, website visits, web searches and likes?

  • How is Big Data analytics already used in fields such as marketing, retail, insurance, finance, healthcare and work to treat us differently?

  • What are the societal and ethical implications of these practices? And how can we move forward?

Their investigation not only exposes the full degree and scale of today’s personal data business, but also shows how algorithmic decisions on people may lead to discrimination, exclusion and other social implications. Followed by an ethical reflection on personal data markets the authors present a selection of recommended actions.

The authors are both based in Vienna and have been working on data privacy for many years, but stem from very different fields. Their report is a unique collaboration between a renowned digital rights activist and a distinguished academic. While Wolfie Christl is a privacy advocate, technologist, writer and educator whose work emerged from well-established networks in critical net culture and digital rights, Sarah Spiekermann chairs the Institute for Management Information Systems at the Vienna University of Economics and Business.

Networks of Control” will be presented at the launch event of Vienna’s new “Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab”, co-founded by Sarah Spiekermann at Vienna University of Economics and Business, in the presence of Max Schrems, Anna Fielder (Privacy International), Udo Helmbrecht (Director EU Agency for Network and Information Security ENISA) and other prominent guests from IEEE, W3C and ISOC. Details:


Examples of corporate practices that are examined in the report

Many of the examples of corporate practices have rarely been examined up to now, or not at all. The authors hope that their comprehensive collection of facts will be taken up by other researchers, privacy advocates, digital rights organizations and media. Examples of corporate practices which are examined in the report include:

  • Devices and platforms recording and sharing personal data such as smartphones and apps, car telematics, wearables and fitness trackers, and many other devices collecting digital information about our bodies, at home, at work and in public space.

  • Data brokers (e.g. Oracle, Acxiom, Experian, LexisNexis), online and mobile tracking companies (e.g. Lotame, Inmobi, Drawbridge, Sense Networks), payment providers (e.g. Adyen, MasterCard).

  • Companies using big data analytics based on personal data in the fields of credit scoring and personal finance (ZestFinance, Lenddo, Kreditech, Cignifi, VisualDNA), voter targeting (e.g. Cambridge Analytica), employee monitoring, hiring and workforce analytics (e.g. Cornerstone, Humanyze, HireIQ), insurance and healthcare (Aviva, GNS Healthcare) and fraud prevention, risk management and national security (e.g. Trustev/TransUnion, IBM, Sentinel, Palantir).


The Authors

Wolfie Christl
is a digital rights activist, researcher, writer, educator and web developer, based in Vienna.

Sarah Spiekermann
chairs the Institute for Management Information Systems at Vienna University of Economics and Business.