Have the ad industry’s data collection practices fueled the general public’s acceptance of the government’s prying eyes?
This morning, we got to hear first hand from PRISM Whistleblower Edward Snowden in a video interview conducted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. In the 12-minute video, Snowden gives in-depth commentary on his decision to release NSA documents and why Americans need to be more vigilant on the issue of privacy.
After watching the video, Digital Net Agency Chief Strategy Officer Skip Graham had a bit of a crisis of conscience regarding the online advertising industry’s part in the collection and use of personal information.
In an email, Graham said, “For years we as digital marketers have created systems that gathered vast personal data while telling consumers that they should have no fear of such activities. We told them that despite the fact that we were in essence watching everything that they did and making calculated choices to manipulate their decisions based on that knowledge, that this was ultimately a benefit to them and that they were still remaining anonymous and therefore their privacy was not at risk. And we said this even though the slightest application of historical perspective would have clearly shown the slippery slope to its inevitable complete loss.”
Graham argues that the advertising industry has played a key role in “softening” consumer’s viewpoints on privacy issues effectively making the public feel “OK” about handing over personal information online.
As this relates to Snowden and the NSA, Graham continues, “I don’t believe it would have been possible for the NSA and the American government to so blithely act as if their current actions were not a violation of our constitutional rights without literally years of prior effort by some of the best minds marketing has to offer to convince the public that this was the reality of how data is gathered and can be be maintained. We went first and told the public not to worry, to have faith and to trust. We crafted the arguments, molded the opinions, and quieted the skeptics.”
It’s no secret the advertising industry has become a master at data collection. After all, a marketer wants to know all the can about a person’s likes, dislikes, demographics, behavior and general demeanor.
Is it conceivable the ad industry played a role in facilitating the vast collection of data now living in the cloud and available to anyone with proper or improper access? Has this practice of data collection made people immune to potential consequences that might result from the collection of this information? Or is data collection really not the issue, rather it’s use?
I live in North Carolina. It’s a pretty state. You get a taste of the winter months but you don’t get a lot of winter weather per se. Sure the summers are hot but that’s what air conditioning is for. Overall, it’s a great place to live and raise a family.
That is except for the state government and their attempts to collect taxes on online purchases made from Amazon. They have already pushed Amazon far enough that the online retailing giant ended its affiliate programs with North Carolina residents in 2009 thus depriving residents of the chance to bring money into the state that would be spent in the state and would give some ailing jobless folks a chance at survival. Nice move!
Apparently, Big Brother is alive and well in the Tar Heel state as well since the state government has been trying to get detailed purchase information from Amazon which would include names and addresses of those making purchases from 2003 to 2010. Fortunately, a federal judge has called the state on its draconian efforts and handed them a major setback in federal court yesterday. cnet reports:
In a victory for the free speech and privacy rights of Amazon.com customers, a federal judge ruled today that the company would not have to turn over detailed records on nearly 50 million purchases to North Carolina tax collectors.
The state had demanded sensitive information including names and addresses of North Carolina customers–and information about exactly what they had purchased between 2003 and 2010.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Washington state said that request went too far and “runs afoul of the First Amendment.” She granted Amazon summary judgment.
The Tar Heel State’s tax collectors have “no legitimate need” for details about the literary, music, and film habits of so many Amazon customers,” Pechman wrote. “In spite of this, (North Carolina) refuses to give up the detailed information about Amazon’s customers’ purchases, while at the same time requesting the identities of the customers and, arguably, detailed records of their purchases, including the expressive content.”
With privacy victories coming too few and far between these days at least we can feel like someone is paying attention and not letting the government run rough shod over privacy while squashing commerce in the process.
I suspect that the state feels they have good reasons for doing what they are doing. They will say that the taxes they want to collect will help the state. Pardon my cynicism, but if the affiliate money that was once coming onto the hands of the residents were turned back on that would REALLY help the state.
At the heart of this ruling though is privacy.
In addition, the ACLU intervened in the lawsuit asking for an even broader injunction against the tax collectors. They wanted Amazon to be prohibited from disclosing customer purchases without a subpoena, which the court did not grant.
In general, as Amazon stressed in its lawsuit, purchases of books, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and other media enjoy special privacy protections.
So what is the North Carolina government trying to do here? At the core, it’s trying to collect taxes from both Amazon and its citizens because of online purchases. In the process, it is killing an avenue for commerce in the state and appearing as if it wants more data on its residents in a time when that is not considered such a good thing. I don’t get it.
In the end the state is only hurting itself though because as people learn about these attempts they will maybe stop short of saying they will set up a business in the Tar Heel state for fear of too much government intrusion. Sadly, no one wins in that scenario.
What’s your take on the idea of taxing online purchases? It’s an old story but one that will likely get more attention in these days of scarce money. Have you been impacted by rulings like this in any other states? What’s worse, more taxes or invasion of privacy to collect them?
Could it be that privacy truly is Facebook’s achilles heel?
The world’s #1 social network is already seeing users cancel their account in droves–over privacy–and now one of its trusted partners provides the gateway for a malicious hack?
One of Facebook’s marque personalization partners, Yelp, is at the center of the latest privacy scare. Actually, a scare would be putting it mildly:
The script in my example would capture the browser cookies set for Yelp.com, extract a key required to make Open Graph API requests to the Facebook API, and send that key to my site. My site would then make a request for your name, email, etc. and store it in a database.
Even more scary?
You–the user–need do anything to enable this security breach. It’s not like Yelp pops-up a message that says “Hey, is this you? Click this harmless looking link!” Nope! Any private info that Facebook makes available to Yelp, would be immediately available to the hackers. Note: You would need to land on a malicious site, hell-bent on extracting your Yelp/Facebook data.
OK, don’t panic. Fortunately, this exploit was discovered by a web security expert–George Deglin–and not some Chinese student doing a class project. In response, both Yelp and Facebook quickly fixed the problem before any user data was compromised.
Still, you have to wonder: if a site as established as Yelp can’t keep your Facebook information safe, do you really want to share it with any random blog that happens to ask for it?
Last month, privacy and data protection officials from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom wrote an open letter to Google voicing their concerns about Google Buzz. Of course, this is nothing new, since Buzz has promptedprivacyconcerns since the day it rolledout.
Let’s rehash this conversation here. First, the ten countries say:
In essence, you took Google Mail (Gmail), a private, one-to-one web-based e-mail service, and converted it into a social networking service, raising concern among users that their personal information was being disclosed. Google automatically assigned users a network of “followers” from among people with whom they corresponded most often on Gmail, without adequately informing Gmail users about how this new service would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent decisions. This violated the fundamental principle that individuals should be able to control the use of their personal information.
At Google, we have 5 privacy principles that describe how we approach privacy and user information across all of our products:
1. Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
2. Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
3. Make the collection of personal information transparent.
4. Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
5. Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.
Hm… So are they now claiming that Buzz “reflected strong privacy standards,” “transparent information collection,” “meaningful choices to protect [users'] privacy” and “responsible” stewardship? Because that was kind of exactly what users and governments alike were complaining about.
Read Write Web hits the nail on the head: Google’s response “reads more like a public relations form-letter on the company’s privacy practices.” Or, essentially: Thank you for your interest in our company! We wish we had the time to respond to every user. Or even the governments that represent nearly 400 million people. Unfortunately, we don’t care.
What do you think? Is Google being flip? Or is there no better way to respond?