John Oliver escalated his typical shenanigans on Sunday night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” going from poking fun at politicians to outright blackmailing them.
The HBO host used his main segment to educate his audience on “data brokers,” and how they obtain people’s information and online preferences to target them. Oliver spoke about how invasive it can be, and how the only time anything has ever been done about it was back in the 1980s, when a member of Congress was targeted.
When Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court, a reporter was able to obtain Bork’s video rental history from a local store. According to Oliver, Congress “freaked the f–k out” and quickly passed the Video Privacy Protection Act.
“So it seems when Congress’s own privacy is at risk, they somehow find a way to act,” Oliver said. “And it also seems like they’re not entirely aware just how easy it is for anyone, and I do mean anyone, to get their personal information.”
At that point, it became clear that Oliver and his team were the “anyone” he was referring to, as they exploited the ease of targeting people online today. As Oliver pointed out, everything he did was technically above board.
“In researching this story, we realized that there is any number of perfectly legal bits of f–kery that we could engage in,” he explained. “We could, for example, use data brokers to go phishing for members of congress, by creating a demographic group consisting of men, age 45 and up, in a 5-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol, who had previously visited sites regarding or searched for terms including divorce, massage, hair loss and mid-life crisis.”
Oliver’s team then named that group “Congress and Cabernet,” and served them with three targeted ads. One read “marriage shouldn’t be a prison,” one read “can you vote twice” and the third advertised “Ted Cruz erotic fan fiction.”
For what it’s worth, Oliver was fully aware of just how “f–king creepy” the entire thing was. But the late night host also pointed out that the number of clicks these fake ads got “was very much not zero.”
According to Oliver, the first ad that got clicked on was actually the Cruz-related ad. It came from a man “around the Embassy Row area,” who clicked on it from his Android phone. The host then revealed that among the many men in the demographic they created, three clicked on each of the targeted ads respectively, and each man “may have been inside the Capitol building itself.”
“If you’re thinking, ‘How on Earth is any of this legal?’ I totally agree with you. It shouldn’t be,” Oliver said. “And if you happen to be a legislator who is feeling a little nervous right now about whether your information is in this envelope, and if you’re terrified about what I might do with it, you might want to channel that worry into making sure that I can’t do anything. Anyway, sleep well!”
You can watch Oliver’s full segment in the video here and above.