I’ve been monitoring the events in the past week about PRISM, the NSA and the traitor/hero, Edward Snowden, former CIA, who lifted the veil and revealed to the the world the questionable practices of the US Agency, practices which, in my opinion, shouldn’t surprise any of us.
The graphic above from Gaping Void, nicely captured the voice of the Internet:
It wasn’t the fact that US State security had been so easily and openly compromised that seemed to shock people, but it was more a sudden sense of lost innocence that seemed to permeate the buzz-o-sphere.
I posted this article this week. From Julie Pippert’s viewpoint, we all deserve the right to keep what we want private, private. The events of 9/11 (as justified by the US government) seemingly no longer hold our civil liberties in high regard.
I had a similar conversation this week with Ann Marie van den Hurk, author of the just-published, Social Media Crisis Communications and she indicated, “Who is the NSA accountable to? The American people?” Apparently not.
But the NSA is accountable to the Executive Office, which granted the Agency the power to collect and analyze any and all information from the online and telecom networks.
From Privacy to Personal Violation
Now, Privacy has now been elevated to the point of personal violation where no stone is left unturned and everyone is suspect. Given the response from the internet, I am observing a certain naiveté when it comes to people’s understanding of how and why their information is being tracked.
Your most personal financial information: your debt, your spend patterns, your income are tracked and monitored by your financial institution and compiled by credit scoring institutions like Equifax to gauge your credit-worthiness and minimize risk to the bank.
While Facebook, we thought, was brought to its knees when the world watched as the FTC and Canada’s Privacy Commissioner mandated clearer user disclosures and guidelines, it was, in fact, only following the lead of publishers, ad networks, direct marketers, who have been collecting online user information for years: search behaviour, clicks, purchases, site visits, content consumption, etc.
I wrote this in December 2012, Big Data Will Change Advertising Forever. As a database marketer, I craved increased knowledge about customers and prospects. The more we knew about you the more we’d be able to put messages and offers in front of you to increase your propensity to purchase.
In that post, I referenced the work I had done at Yahoo! almost a decade ago, where online user behaviour was a strong focus for this publishing platform,
I was fortunate enough to work for Hunter Madsen, the Yahoo! guru who led the team that developed Behavioural Targeting for our company back in early-to-mid 2004. We were in awe as Hunter explained the mechanics of targeting users within the network, based on where they’d been, what content they consumed, what they searched for… also taking into consideration their geography, demographics and alignment with the target profile.
Time marches on and we’ve seen ad evolution in retargeting capability, dynamic ads that flex with your online footprint, geography, profile and emails you write, pages you “like” etc. And the industry will continue to evolve because there are huge dollars willing to be spent to find the right customer that is more receptive to the message at the right time and the right place.
Google admitted it did scan emails for malware and spam but argued that scanning content to provide relevant advertising should be an exception under the wiretap law, or as some would call The Fourth Amendment.
We Need to Progress
Those adamant that their information is their own, of which no one should have access whatsoever, should realize that there is a price to pay for using free services. The means of collecting personal information is also NOT new information.
The early days of direct mail and subscription-based magazines began to build more detailed profiles of individuals who subscribed to certain publications. When culled with transactional data, suddenly marketers had a way to build predictive models to optimize response performance. And that was exciting.
As this article highlights,
It’s similar to the way Amazon or eBay use databases to predict what you might want to buy next
Big data technologies will only grow the amount of information collected, and provide increased insights at faster rates as the world increases its usage of mobile, the web, google glasses, mobile payments etc. We can’t stop progress. The more data out there, the more demand from willing buyers to extract meaning from it.
Remember the CIA Facebook Program? This has made the surveillance efforts much more efficient. Yes, the government is using your data to tap into potential threats but it would have done so, regardless, through much more laborious means if the technology hadn’t been available. That’s progress.
CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs
And yes, that means the very marketing technology solutions used to make more informed strategic decisions about customers, will also be tools demanded by security companies, law enforcement and government.
The reality is that there is so much more good that can be achieved by being able to analyze and predict outcomes from this mountain of information. But there is also a price to be paid.
The Need for Controls
The economics of data need to be balanced with controls, however. I remember this quote from a few years ago. Alluding to the fact that people are now embracing the use of social networks,
Mark Zuckerberg said, “Privacy is no longer a social norm”
I found this from a site called Writingya: From a purely individual perspective, where the rights of the citizen are now marginalized, the author had this to say,
The problem is that we have not created a privacy culture on the Internet that we can live with. We created the wrong one. What I think about is: What is intimacy without privacy? What is a democracy without privacy?…Technology makes people stupid. It can blind you to what your underlying values are and need to be. Are we really willing to give away our Constitutional and civil liberties that we fought so hard for?
The will of the people will demand more transparency.
They may be unable to stop the extent to which agencies like the NSA use personal information but the collective voice will make the government much more accountable for the safety and security of their information.
The reality of protecting the nation’s security: The less people that know, the better. The more transparent the government is, the less effective are the surveillance initiatives.
But we don’t want a state of surveillance that eerily feels like we’re living in a police state. There has to be a balance between ensuring the security of the nation and the containment of our civil liberties.
Image source: Gaping Void art
Founder at ArCompany, and Director, International Council on Global Privacy and Security by Design Hessie is a seasoned digital strategist, and intelligence analyst having held senior positions for top ad agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience in AI technologies, social tech, online publishing and artificial intelligence like Yahoo! Answers, Overlay.TV, Jugnoo and Cerebri AI. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also an active writer for Forbes, Cognitive World, Towards Data Science and Marketing Insider Group.