Will NSA Revelations Bring Added Privacy Pressure To Ad Biz?

The recent revelations that tech companies are sharing information about users with the National Security Agency raises a host of unanswered questions, but one of the most pressing for the ad industry is whether the news will intensify efforts to regulate how tech companies can collect and use data.

The answer isn't immediately obvious. On one hand, some consumer advocates and digital rights groups will say that consumers' privacy interest is the same regardless of who is collecting information. In other words, privacy advocates will say that people should be able to read an article about mortgage refinancing, or cancer research, or the history of revolutions, without having that information compiled into a massive database -- regardless of whether the database is maintained by the NSA or DoubleClick.

On the other hand, the ad industry probably will say that there's far less reason to be concerned about its collection of data than data-mining by the government. That is, industry groups will reiterate the argument they've been making for more than a decade -- that the worst possible thing that can result from data-driven ads is that people will get ads for products they don't want. That's in sharp contrast to the government, which can use the same data in order to decide which people to investigate as potential criminals.

And, while it's probably unlikely that the recent surveillance revelations will lead people to stop going online, the news could spur calls for more information from Silicon Valley. Even if companies aren't allowed to disclose all governmental requests for data, they  certainly could have done a better job at responding to last week's news about surveillance.

So far, many Silicon Valley companies involved with the NSA issued statements that, at best, omit some important terms. Consider, on Saturday, Yahoo's general counsel said the company does not “voluntarily disclose user information.”

But security researcher and civil liberties advocate Christopher Soghoian quickly pointed out that the NSA's PRISM program doesn't call for voluntary disclosures. “By falsely describing PRISM as a voluntary scheme, Yahoo's general counsel is then able to deny involvement outright. Very sneaky,” Soghoian writes.

2 comments about "Will NSA Revelations Bring Added Privacy Pressure To Ad Biz?".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, June 11, 2013 at 6:26 a.m.

    The companies concerned did a good job. Announcing the details would have been illegal, so they all made "denials" that could be easily picked-apart by journalists.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 11, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.

    WWP probably has access to more info on people than any one government. Then you couldn't buy those Oreos if you bought something other than Tide or facsimile thereof and those facsimiles could get rougher than that.

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