Free Minds & Free Markets

Stossel: Google and Facebook Cross 'The Creepy Line'

Tech companies are compiling incredibly detailed dossiers about you.

Companies like Google and Facebook collect information about us and sell it to advertisers.

The information they collect and the way they collect it cross the "creepy line" according to a new documentary called "The Creepy Line."

John Stossel asks the writer of the documentary, Peter Schweizer: "What's the big deal? They're giving me information."

Schweizer responds "to the extent that somebody can do something for you, they can do something to you." He goes on to make a powerful case that Google and Facebook abuse their power.

The documentary says that Google tracks you even when you are not online. As soon as you connect to the internet, Android uploads to Google a complete history of where you've been that day.

Schweizer wants Google and Facebook to be regulated like media companies.

Stossel is skeptical "You want regulation? That's going to make it better?" he asks.

Schweizer answers: "one of the ways you deal with Google's market concentration, and its massive control of search is, put it under the same shackles [as] other media companies."

Stossel doesn't presume to know what, if anything, ought to be done about Google and Facebook. But he says that the documentary makes a compelling case that these giant companies do creepy things.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Like us on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.
Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Companies like Google and Facebook collect information about us and sell it to advertisers.

    And the government, Mr. Stossel! And the government.

  • The Last American Hero||

    The don't sell it to the government, it is given freely.

  • ThomasD||

    It's given with purpose.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Freely? as in "or else!"

  • Eddy||

    I've been wondering why I've been getting those ads for lifesize anime dolls.

    #so far

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You've been to Longtorso's house?

  • Glen 69||

    I laugh at people who put tape over their computer camera. Compared to the massive amount of data that is taken from your phone and computer with your permission (TOS agreement) a camera is nothing.

  • Sevo||

    I clicked here for the complete text and got the same teaser as the other page.
    "Schweizer answers: "one of the ways you deal with Google's market concentration, and its massive control of search is, put it under the same shackles [as] other media companies."
    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Brandybuck||

    To me it comes down to the expectation of privacy. If I make a public post on Facebook I do not expect it to be private. I posted it publicly so it's now public. But if Facebook gives me a "private" page that no one but me can get to, then no information I put there should be shared. But such a page is useless, I at least want to share it with friends. In which case I have a much lower expectation of privacy because my friends could be dicks.

    But what about stuff like what I searched for? What products I bought online? I not only expect that information to be private, I expect it to be ephemeral. Google/Facebook should have no memory of the transaction after it has concluded. Neither should they be tracking me if I don't give them permission to track me.

    They also need to make their privacy policies short and understandable, instead of walls of incomprehensible legalese.

  • JFree||

    In 1980 - freaking 1980 - OECD came up with what remain the best principles for how to deal with personal data:

    Notice—data subjects should be given notice when their data is being collected;
    Purpose—data should only be used for the purpose stated and not for any other purposes;
    Consent—data should not be disclosed without the data subject's consent;
    Security—collected data should be kept secure from any potential abuses;
    Disclosure—data subjects should be informed as to who is collecting their data;
    Access—data subjects should be allowed to access their data and make corrections to any inaccurate data
    Accountability—data subjects should have a method available to them to hold data collectors accountable for not following the above principles

    Unfortunately in the intervening 40 years libertarians have done nothing to flesh those out and put teeth in it as a property right of the individual rather than the 'collector'.

  • TLBD||

    Libertarians are god-awful on fraud. Which really blows my mind.

    When a portion of wealth passes from the person who has acquired it, without his consent and without compensation, to someone who has not created it, whether this is by force or fraud, I say that there has been a violation of property rights and that there has been an act of plunder. - Bastiat

    Data is a valuable possession, or wealth, and what these companies are doing is fraud.

  • TLBD||

    And what I mean by this is that these companies "sell" you their products with the understanding that they will use your data to help advertisers better target you for good and services. Yet this same data can and is used for far more purposes, up to and including helping to put you in prison if the government can use it, and many other ways that you are unaware of and can not possibly be aware of.

  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    I don't know if I completely buy this argument. Google/FB/Etc. are creating the "data" (i.e., by giving someone a platform to use). They are the ones that created systems to collect, organize, analyze, etc. pieces of information. This is what makes it valuable, not the individual pieces of information. Moreover, one could make the argument that these pieces of information were given freely via exchange (i.e., as part of using an efficient platform). I recognize that there are good arguments that the terms of service agreements are garbage, but I would argue that it is a gray area too. Given all of this, Google/FB/etc. are the ones that have "created" something that actually has value through their labor. As such, don't they have a right to the fruits of their labor?

  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    Also, I'm not even sure that Bastiat quote really captures this situation. Again, there is a huge gray area about "consent" and "compensation" here (I can see arguments on both sides). For example, one could argue that we are compensated because we are getting to use these things/services for free. I understand that your comment that they use that data for all kinds of different things that they never tell us about, but I'm not sure how much that argument holds water. For example, supposed I bought your house because I said I wanted to live there. After purchasing the house (and land) and surveying the land, running tests, etc. I find out that there is a bunch of precious metals in the ground and decide to bulldoze your house and mine the metals from the ground and make substantially more money than you ever thought possible. Can you honestly say that the wealth was acquired without consent and compensation? Arguably, this is in the ballpark of what Google/FB/etc. is doing.

    I'm not saying you are necessarily wrong...but that this is a much more complicated discussion than you are presenting. And hence, I don't think it is fair to simply say that "libertarians are god-awful on fraud." I think there are a lot of different ways you can use libertarian philosophy to come to wildly different conclusions on this subject. It all comes down to the assumptions you are making about the meaning of "wealth" "data" "consent" "compensation" etc.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Yeah, all those libertarians in the Senate (1-2 over the last 30 years depending on the issue at hand), House (2-10 over the last 30 years depending on the issue), the White House (none), the Governor mansions (none), State Houses (1-3 per state depending on the issue), State Senates (1-2 per state depending on the issue), State AG's (none) really haven't been doing their job. At least we control Hollywood and the major new media (oops). Maybe we can use our tremendous clout as assistant to the public utility district to force some changes.

  • JFree||

    And as long as libertarians don't even pretend to be interested in these issues, then that portion of voters that is concerned about those issues will certainly find no reason to ever vote for a libertarian.

    One survey:

    51% worry about hackers stealing their data
    26% about companies selling/sharing their data
    14% about US govt surveillance
    9% about foreign govt surveillance

    Maybe none of those worries translates/elevates into a single 'vote' to do something about it. But given the popularity of NON-libertarian approaches to 'do something about it', I doubt it. More likely, the 'do something' argument simply occurs in a vacuum where no libertarian perspective is part of the debate because silent petulance is a really ineffective form of engaging in public debate or presenting options.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The LP is very busy licking the and "good-faith" blacking off of antichoice jackboots and papal toes. A couple of years ago there were antichoice planks in something calling itself "Libertarian" in Ireland! That's the same Ireland that just last May voted 66% to quit letting the male Pope iv Rome write its Constitution.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    You make me wish for abortion to become a capital crime. If in,y just to spite you. You fucking anti religious baby murdering bigot

  • Locris||

    the Governor mansions (none),
    Jesse Ventura

  • lafe.long||

    In 2018, any desktop user who:

    Uses Chrome
    Does not use adblock and ghostery and actually sees ads while browsing
    Stays logged into google while searching (or doing anything)
    Does not have their browser set to delete history/cookies on quitting (or occasionally doing this manually)

    ... is getting what they deserve.

    Of course, there are tons of other things (alt accounts for social media, etc), but the above are trivially easy basics that cover a LOT of bases brought up in the video.

  • Troglodyte Rex||

    My frau gets miffed at me when I ask Alexa is Jeff Bezos is a child rapist.

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    A Leftist friend and his Leftier wife get upset with me when I tease them and ask their Alexa how to make Semtex H, cyanide gas, ricin, a directed EMP, a heat-seeking RPG...
    "What? I thought the government was our friend -- nobody we need to worry about."

  • Live Free Or Diet||

    With all the dystopian fiction I write, and the searches I do, especially on their "Scholar" engine, Google must think I'm a terrorist mastermind.

  • Hank Phillips||

    That or a technical translator...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Instead of massive regulation, advocate for Terms of Service to include a privacy contract so companies like FB and Google cannot sell your metadata without your permission. Same thing for phone companies, etc.

    Or just dont give thee companies much info.

    I dont cross login to different applications or apps. I dont let websites store my passwords. I dont give real information on the few social media sites that I use.

  • ThomasD||

    Require full disclosure of what data is being collected, and current and intended uses of that data. With civil liabilities for any reporting failures or any loss of data to undisclosed parties.

    I'd consider that akin to ingredient labeling on packaged foods.

  • Sam Grove||

    They still are unable to tell when I have actually purchased an item I've been looking at, and so continue to offer ads for purchased items.

  • Rockabilly||


    #Resist with Ben and Jerry's™

  • Mobilito||

    I can see with my Ghostery plug-in that among others Schweizer is using both Google and Facebook to promote his book and measure Web site traffic - PLEASE! Most of these do-gooders are saying one thing and doing another as you can see here...I will have to make another update and add them to the list.


    BTW, it is easy enough to block 3rd party cookies from the biggies.

  • antiestablismentarianism||

    I really don't see what the problem is. You don't want your locations tracked? Turn off the location setting on your phone. Don't want Google knowing your web searches? Don't use Chrome, use Firefox instead. Wanna search for something? Don't use Google to search. Use Bing or Yahoo or something. Everything these companies are doing is permission based and we have the option of turning it off or discontinuing using the service. I would only start worrying when they start collecting info we don't give them permission to collect, such as turning on cameras or webcams without our permission.

  • Sevo||

    antiestablismentarianism|12.4.18 @ 6:02PM|#
    "I really don't see what the problem is."

    The problem is dimbulbs whining that they get 'tracked' by companies after giving them permission to do so and providing that tracking data and then *WHINE*!
    This will certainly cement my rep as someone with an onion in his belt, but I've yet to find a need for a smart-phone, and in (just yesterday) doing a google and a bing search of my name, there is a listing as "inventor", and then the 'pay us for the info you want' for address and phone. Nothing more, and I'm happy with that.
    I'm sure the search companies have 'private' data on me, as I get ads directed to my business needs, but nothing regarding restaurants, entertainment, etc.
    I'm also guessing that Uber and Lyft are selling destination data; in SF, the cabs have become noticeably more accommodating to users, but given the analogue data collection by them ('What is your address?'), I'm guessing that they are the travel equivalent of cash transactions. Not to mention driving your own car with no phone in it.

  • Sevo||

    Put another way: If you don't like being tracked, don't wear snow-shoes in the winter.
    And fuck off, slavers.

  • mtrueman||

    "but I've yet to find a need for a smart-phone"

    A smart phone is just a computer, very small but with great potential. Problem is that the manufacturers fill them with malware.

    "I'm also guessing that Uber and Lyft are selling destination data"

    Probably true. I'm guessing that Ford, GM, Chrysler, Tesla, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW, Volkswagen and Fiat do the same.

  • ThomasD||

    " Problem is that the manufacturers fill them with malware."

    It's not simply that they've loaded them with a bunch of malware, it's that, due to the EULAs you don't even own any of it.

    And the problem is not limited to smartphones, it extends to all sorts of other devices - even things like your auto, or even farm equipment.

    Jailbreaking and side loading should not even be a thing.

  • mtrueman||

    I agree and would have thought that Libertarians would be more interested in the issue. You buy yourself a smart phone, but the manufacturer still owns it.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The phone only works if you "agree" to sth like 35000 words of turgid, rights-destroying verbiage. But if you do not knuckle under to that you do not get your money back. Just what is the legal definition of ransomware?

  • vek||

    Here's the problem:

    They still track your location setting, with that setting TURNED OFF on your phone. Google it, it's true! LOL

    Also, whether you have a Googlbe/FB account or not, they are tracking you everywhere you go online. Even if you don't use their services ever, because 3rd party websites use various back endy things, and it is still worth it for them to collect for advertising.

    It is not nearly as simple as you say to truly avoid. If it were, that would be GREAT. But it's not. You literally need to use a VPN, Tor browser (or perhaps some slightly less hardcore, but more than standard browser settings), have zero accounts with any service, etc.

    In short you basically cannot exist in the modern world without consenting to being spied on. Which is BS.

    It doesn't have to be that way, see my post below for a few alternative possibilities...

  • mtrueman||

    Tor has its own problems. I've experienced being banned from at least one website for logging in with Tor. The administrators assumed Tor users are up to no good.

  • Sig40||

    @ antiestablismentarianism: It's really hard to no where to even begin with the naivety displayed by your comment. Then again, it's no different than the naivety that 98% of the general public has on this topic. But let's just start here:

    "....I would only start worrying when they start collecting info we don't give them permission to collect, such as turning on cameras or webcams without our permission."

    Then you should already be worried, and you should have been worried for years already. Do you honestly believe the only information of your that is bing gathered is what you've given permission on?

  • ||

    What happens if the profile they build of the person is nothing like the person in reality?

    For example, how do they know if a consumer is buying items as gifts and don't reflect the purchasers tastes? So it I buy eyeliner online for my wife Google will send me targeted ads about Cover Girl. But Google *thinks* I like eyeliner.

    This is where it starts to get really creepy. What if, based on faulty information, the government gets its hands on it?

    And seriously. The idea that these ignorant punks like Zuckerberg and Dorsey have access to all this information is frightening.

  • Hank Phillips||

    If the profile suffices to subject the individual to Kristallnacht gun laws in NY, I'm betting it'll attract buyers with pocketfuls of money taken at gunpoint.

  • BlueStarDragon||

    The real problem is when google and face book sell their tech to China. Then our government see it and say what a great idea this is. Worse their are people who think this is great. because they will always know who the rapist is. They never think that crook will work in government positions or that the government can control what they record.

  • Hank Phillips||

    How dare you smear President Nixon that way!

  • sbo338bet||

  • mtrueman||

    Not sure why Google and Facebook are singled out here. Anyone using Windows for the past 20 years or so has no security due to the auto update feature which can alter code on one's computer. Apple's iphone gives the company the ability to censor any applications the user wants to employ. Amazon's Kindle is much the same.

  • mtrueman||

    Richard Stallman's 4 freedoms might be a way to 'uncross the creepy line:'

    Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
    Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
    Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute and make copies so you can help your neighbor.
    Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

    We already have these four freedoms running Linux. With Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and other proprietary software, we have none of them.

  • Sig40||

    If you're not paying for it, then you're the product.

    If you really want to understand what Facebook is about, do a little searching around for an early 2000's DARPA project called "LifeLog." The project was supposedly cancelled on the very same day that F-book was founded.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So according to the Luddites, men with guns bursting into high-tech companies are a good thing, because these high-tech companies the object modified by a scary adjective they made up? Did I understand that right? So Government Goons with Guns Goood! Google, electric generating plants, Uber, AirBnB baaad! Right?

  • vek||

    Not saying I support regulation per se right now... But anybody who doesn't see a problem with the way things work now is blind. As I mentioned above, you basically cannot live a modern life without your life becoming 1984. That's a problem... Mainly because it doesn't HAVE to be that way... And the fact that there is not an alternative makes me wonder what these peoples goals really are.

    Example: FB only makes something like under buck a month per user in revenue IIRC, gross mind you! Nothing. Why hasn't some genius there realized if they offered a $49.99 plan that eliminated all advertising, and all collection of information, that many would GLADLY sign up... And 5+ fold the profits for the business? Hell $19.99 a year.

    Same for Google. They save no info, and you get the services you want. Even if only 5% of people opted in, that would bump total income 20% or more, which is a good thing for a business to do...

    Why can't you ACTUALLY turn off tracking on your phone? Even with the setting off, it tracks where you go, just less precisely, and then sends it to Google, or other apps. There is no ability to opt out of your cell carrier knowing too...

    You can't say such thoughts have never occurred to people at these companies... The thing that scares me is they seem to want your DATA more than they want PROFIT. I don't like that. It makes me wonder what their real purpose is if it isn't making as much cash as possible.

  • vek||

    As normies become more aware of privacy stuff, I hope people DEMAND more options, and no regulation is ever needed. But IMO if a few light handed "labeling laws" type things were passed, making them properly disclose what they're really up to in TOS agreements, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Likewise, requiring opt out options wouldn't be THAT bad, because if it cost them income, they could simply charge a fee for opting out as proposed above. People could then choose.

    A future with privacy intact is very doable, if people demand it... Because big tech seems to have no interest in even offering it, despite that it could seemingly be even more profitable.

    I personally make a half hearted attempt at limiting my data exposure. I don't really use FB or any other social media, although I have a FB account for when people want to message me. I go through settings with a fine tooth comb and do what I can. But the thing is, since I know they collect my shit either way, I just throw in the towel in some aspects too. Until there are truly private options, that's all anybody can do without dropping out of digital life altogether, or going to hacker levels of effort every time they want to visit a website online.

  • ||

    hi everyone i say found a powerful formula that combines the highest quality ingredients to address your weight loss from multiple perspectives, 24 hours per day. By
    increasing your metabolism both during the day and night, increasing your energy levels, and promoting and restful sleep get more info here...

  • Locris||

    Publish your passwords.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online