Home Data In Speech, Obama Conflates Ad Tracking With NSA Spying

In Speech, Obama Conflates Ad Tracking With NSA Spying


obama-spiesIn a speech Friday on proposed changes to the government’s spying program, President Barack Obama briefly linked the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic and foreign surveillance activities to digital ad tracking common in the marketing world.

According to the speech transcript, Obama said of his intelligence review:

“There was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone. 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. But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher.”

It was a brief reference to be sure, but any conflation by the president of digital advertising with the NSA’s over-reaching surveillance program is a branding calamity for an industry that increasingly must go out of its way to emphasize the anonymous nature of targeted online advertising. Worse for marketing interests, the last sentence of his commercial reference implies the intelligence community (spies) should aspire to “higher” standards of privacy than advertising interests.

Marketers would beg to differ. In a blog post disputing that passage of the speech, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) said,

“DMA was disappointed to see the responsible use of consumer data for marketing purposes conflated with ‘government surveillance.’ As revelations regarding NSA practices have come to light in recent months, DMA has been working hard to make it clear to policymakers and the media that issues around government surveillance are not related to data-driven marketing.”

The unfavorable comparison of marketers with the NSA seems to be a common theme now among some regulators.  In a hearing last month held by the congressional Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said, “The NSA is so secure in its protection of privacy compared to data brokers, it’s not even close.”

Rockefeller called out three database marketing companies – Acxiom, Epsilon and Experian Marketing Services –for what he described as a resistance to supply direct answers to the committee. “I’m putting these three companies on notice today that I’m not satisfied with these answers and there are further steps we can use to get answers to these questions,” he said.

Obama’s widely anticipated address followed an independent review of the NSA’s use of technology to gather intelligence. In it, Obama called for new controls on the spying program.

Ryan Joe contributed. 

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