Don’t give your money to that campaign to buy Republicans’ browser histories


cash register
Image Credits: Jason Costanza (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window) under a CC BY 2.0 (opens in a new window) license. (Image has been modified)

Have you seen the viral GoFundMe campaign floating around that vows to buy and publish the web histories of every politician and exec who is helping internet providers sell your data? Yeah, don’t give that dude your money.

I’m all for wacky clever revenge plots, but this one just looks like a straight up scam. Whether self-proclaimed privacy activist Adam McElhaney means well or not (and he may), this campaign just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And yet it’s already made over $110,000!

First of all, it’s not like this sort of thing is a true open market where absolutely anything goes. Private individuals can’t just waltz in, slam their money on a table (what table??) and demand targeted, de-anonymized internet data on individual users, successful GoFundMe campaign or not. Sure, advertisers can buy web user data, but that’s generally done in aggregate, and they have existing relationships that let them broker these kind of deals to begin with, sketchy as they may be.

Second, I mean, yeah, it’s hypocritical. If you care about privacy, like really believe in it, throwing your ideals out the window for a half-baked revenge plot isn’t a very good look. And like I said, I like revenge just fine. But it’s a dish best served cold, and anyone who gives a shit about privacy is still worked up from yesterday’s nonsense. And, by the way, the GoFundMe wants to target not only the politicians and the telecom fat cats, but also their families (check the fine print). Not cool.

If you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll listen to Max Temkin, one of the creators of Cards Against Humanity, a company known for its often quite clever and wildly absurd crowdfunding schemes, like that time they dug a literal money pit with your money. Dude apparently had the same idea, but even he thinks this GoFundMe situation is sketchy AF. This is coming from a guy who is literally sending potatoes to members of Congress.

Apparently this campaign doesn’t raise any red flags for GoFundMe, which provided TechCrunch with this statement:

“The campaign doesn’t violate our terms of service. We are working directly with the campaign organizer to ensure the funds are managed appropriately. We encourage the campaign organizer to be transparent and continually provide updates on the campaign page.”

We’ll update when we hear more from GoFundMe about what that means exactly or if McElhaney responds to our requests for comment. Like we said, he might mean well, or he might not. It doesn’t really matter. Save your cash for the battles that do — they’re probably just around the corner.

Update: A day after our story went up, McElhaney responded to our request for comment about how he planned to deliver on the promise of his campaign. He didn’t provide specifics or answers of any kind really, but you can read McElhaney’s screed below if you feel like it.

The site went viral literally overnight. It was my hope at first that a few people would see it and could get a conversation started. Maybe some would chip in some money to help offset the cost of hosting. But my original intent was to start a dialogue.

Wow. Did it ever.

I had never imagined I would be thrust into a position in which I have a national voice, albeit small. I’m really no one important or famous. But to quickly raise $166,000 in 4 days says something about the state people are in.

We are angry. I’m angry. You should be angry.

Everyday, more and more of our civil liberties are chipped away.

Where does it stop? The most sinister is the future applications of such a repeal of the law. Before it was a grey area if ISPs and Telecom’s could do this. Then the Obama-era FCC finally stepped in and said no. The lobbyist waited for an opportunity to repeal that law that would have gone into full effect later this year. Now, it’s not grey. It’s black and white. They can do this. Some argue that he data is anonymous or aggregated. Maybe to the marketing companies present day. But not to the ISP’s and they know that. They can attach your name to your IP address an then sell that to someone. Insurance companies, Law enforcement, ex-wife, whoever. That may not be what happens today, but it certainly will be happening in the future.

The ISP’s have been quoted as saying “they respect the privacy and will not sell the data.” Then why lobby to have the law removed?

The worst-case scenario is the obvious future abuse. Right now, your data may not be tied to you specifically. But that is only right now.

I can foresee a future in which people must submit their search history to their medical insurance company prior to getting coverage. They may want to look to see if you have been searching for symptoms to a disease that might be too expensive to cover.

Maybe before you get a loan from a bank, you will have to submit to having your search history to verify you haven’t been looking up bankruptcy options.

Maybe your employer wants to know if you have been looking up other jobs.

Generating more money is important to the ISP’s and Telecoms. Rightly so, they are in the business to make money. But when they realize they can trade on your data, without your knowledge to consent, that’s where the abuse will come.

My ultimate goal, my driving force is to get that law back into play. I think a lot of people do not realize this isn’t about retaliation. This is about showing our legislators that this is the what the future holds. It may not be right now that I can just go online and buy someone’s history. But that future is coming. That is what I am trying to get people to see and understand.

As for is it possible? Yes. I’m unsure if you are familiar with Telecom Data as a Service field. Or companies like Acxiom, which is one of the largest data-brokering firms in the world. There are hundreds of companies out there doing just this. Some can attach your email to your credit card transactions.

They purchase data. And if they can, I’ll find a way, too.

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