Reaction: The NSA’s Impact On Digital Advertising

DataAs the fallout from the news that that the National Security Agency has amassed a vast collection of phone and Internet activity records continues, AdExchanger asked several marketing and privacy experts for their thoughts on the impact that the NSA’s data collection program may have on perceptions of consumer data used for advertising purposes.

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Marc Groman, executive director, Network Advertising Initiative

“At NAI [Network Advertising Initiative], our primary mission is consumer privacy and we share concerns about overly broad access by the federal government to consumer information. We are also concerned that consumers might mix up the issues or not have a clear understanding of the types of data that the NSA has been accessing from first parties and think that it’s marketing information or data collected for interest-based advertising, when in fact it’s not. Email, social media, login, VOIP, chat, that kind of data, is unrelated to the information via cookies that is used to make a profile for marketing and advertising purposes but we’re concerned that consumers will not be able to distinguish the issues and we’re concerned that some people will intentionally conflate the issues as well. We don’t have a specific plan at the moment except the general agreement that more consumer education about the type of information that is collected and used for interest-based advertising is needed.”

Greg Sterling, principal, Sterling Market Intelligence

“To the extent that people become sensitized to the idea that their online activities are being captured, tracked, monitored, and the NSA further fueling that awareness, I think we may have some discomfort, but I don’t think people make an immediate connection between online advertising and data collection. There’s a bigger point that consumers don’t know what to do about it [data collection]. They’re aware that this is a broad issue but most don’t know how to combat it. These are services that they use everyday like Google, Facebook, etc. and there’s really no alternative. Realistically there’s no choice in the matter for many people unless they were to completely stop using these tools and technologies that have become so ingrained in our lives. It remains to be seen how much people in congress and third-party interest groups agitate and keep this issue alive. If the coverage were to stop next week, the issue would go away for many people.”

 Martin Hayward, director of marketing, Mirror Image

“We expect almost no impact on consumers’ views on privacy as it relates to targeted advertising from this leak. The use of personal data by digital advertisers is much different than that of the NSA.  The digital advertising ecosystem powers the Internet (i.e. we’re getting some value in return from being targeted), and the data is anonymized. Further, most advertising-related companies are transparent about their use of consumer data, and provide opt-out mechanisms.   In contrast, the NSA has the ability to drill down to identify personal details about individuals once their big data analytics algorithms find the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”  And there’s no way to opt-out.  That’s scary and creepy to most people in this country. There will be consumer backlash against the companies collecting the data:  not around their use of their data, but instead around their willingness to cooperate with the authorities.”

Scott Galloway, marketing professor, NYU Stern School of Business

“I don’t see it as having a big impact.  People aren’t as concerned about being put on lists if it’s commercial in nature, such as for a car or a brand of shoes you like, etc.  It’s when the government starts creating lists around things people hold sacred—political/religious beliefs, health info, sexual orientation—that people get anxious. This controversy highlights that people are more trusting of companies, than governments, with data.”

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