Cracked Labs

Institute for Critical Digital Culture

Home » Networks of Control

Networks of Control

A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data & Privacy

by Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann

» Download the Report (PDF)
» Buy the Book at Facultas (+ Info & Cover Download)

» Press Information October, 2016 (PDF)
» Info at (Vienna University of Economics and Business

“the most comprehensive study ever carried out on this aspect of the digital economy”La Stampa, Italy (article)

“a must-read for anyone who is interested in today's data-driven world”
Paul Nemitz, Director Fundamental Rights, DG Justice, European Commission

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

“an extensive but approachable crash course in big data and collection measures, a welcome, gap-filling foundation-building for a fledgling privacy professional like myself … a slow-burning horror film. Set the noose, increase the stakes, make everything appear normal before things ultimately prove to be terrifying … they also provide innovative, thought-provoking criticisms and solutions aimed toward propelling humanity towards a better future, ideas that seemed fresh and different, highlighting their impressive understanding of the issues”
Courtney Gabrielson, International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)

The Book

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 a non-transparent and unregulated way.

In their report, Wolfie Christl and Sarah Spiekermann explain how a vast number of companies have started to engage in constant surveillance of the population. Without peoples’ knowledge a network of global players is constantly tracking, profiling, categorizing, rating and affecting the lives of billions – across platforms, devices and life contexts. While special interest groups have been 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 gap is closed with this book entitled “Networks of Control – A Report on Corporate Surveillance, Digital Tracking, Big Data & Privacy”.

Based on detailed examples “Networks of Control” 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 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, the co-founder of Cracked Labs, 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.


Wolfie Christl: impact [at]

Introductory Article by Sarah Spiekermann

"Marketers’ are building psycho-social and economic profiles about us now all the time. They offer us different prices for the same product depending on our purchase power and price sensitivity. They let us wait forever in call centres if we don’t make enough money with them. They don’t send catalogues to the poor; presuming that poor people cannot afford products anyway (or would not reliably pay for them). We are categorized into ‘segments’ that often carry ambiguous titles, such as "hedonist", "adventurer" or "preserver". We are analysed as to what triggers us most in our voting behaviour so that political parties can manipulate our votes. Banks are maximising the loan rates we have to pay them, depending on what our data traces tell them about our "risk" to pay them back. Some insurers are using our Facebook friends’ network to see whether we may be filing a fraudulent car accident with them. Others check whether we may fall sick and already take medication or anti-depressives? More important: Are we hanging out with people who are sick or unreliable? What does our social network and communications tell them about us? Or what kind of neighbourhood do we physically live in?"
(read full article at the site of the Austrian daily