DMA Criticizes Obama Comments Comparing Gov't Snooping With Ad Tracking

In his speech today about governmental surveillance, President Barack Obama made some comments that didn't sit well with the Direct Marketing Association.

That group took issue with a portion of Obama's remarks that it says conflated surveillance by the government with tracking by ad companies. The president mentioned in his speech that “challenges” to privacy don't just come from the government. “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer or smartphone,” he said. “But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher.”

The DMA said in a statement issued Friday afternoon that it was “disappointed to see the responsible use of consumer data for marketing purposes conflated with 'government surveillance.'”

DMA vice president Rachel Thomas adds that comparisons between ad tracking and NSA surveillance don't make sense. “Consumers have transparency, and very robust and meaningful choices about how their data is used for marketing purposes,” she tells MediaPost. “The same, of course, is not true when it comes to government surveillance.”

While the DMA focused on remarks about commercial tracking, Obama only mentioned that topic in passing. The bulk of his remarks outlined upcoming changes to the NSA's surveillance program. Among the most significant changes is that Obama is now requiring the agency to get court permission before reviewing information about the phone numbers people call, except in emergencies.

Obama also endorsed the idea that the government should stop storing phone records. The president isn't yet proposing any concrete alternatives, but one possibility is that phone companies would be required to retain the data for a certain period of time.

Additionally, Obama suggested that telecoms and Web companies will be allowed to disclose more information about the requests by the government for data about consumers; a coalition of tech companies is now suing for the right to do so. The president also announced that John Podesta will lead a review of big data and privacy.

In general, digital rights groups say the new policies and proposals are a good start, but don't go far enough. “Far more needs to be done to restore the faith of the American people and repair the damage done globally to the U.S. reputation as a defender of human rights on the Internet,” Greg Nojeim, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology's project on freedom, security and surveillance, said in a statement. He added that possible storage of bulk phone records by companies -- instead of the NSA -- “would be merely a shuffling of the chairs, not a real reform.”

Jeff Chester, executive director of the privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, pointed out that advocates are still awaiting legislation to establish a privacy “bill of rights” -- which would limit data collection and retention by private companies. Chester said in a statement that the new administration initiative “isn't the same as real safeguards limiting the collection and use of our commercial data -- and which can be accessed by the NSA and others.”

2 comments about "DMA Criticizes Obama Comments Comparing Gov't Snooping With Ad Tracking".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, January 20, 2014 at 5:03 a.m.

    I'm not aware of any marketing organizations that set out to undermine internet security. So I don't see the similarity.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 20, 2014 at 9:55 a.m.

    Absolutely correct. Advertisers can manipulate choices of every ilk and those influences become more dominant every year. Because it is more subtle and caters to the feel good desires, we don't notice. What would you do for a Klondike Bar ?

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