Last week in Edinburgh, the IPA's
Nigel Gwilliam shared an update on happenings at the recent South
by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin Texas. The focus of
our soundbite from the event was data, privacy, internet
surveillance, and the questions of who's looking after consumers
and their interests amidst the mass collection of our data. Or as
Nigel put it, 'Who's watching the watchmen, watching the watchmen?'
- 'the Watchmen' being the NSA and GCHQ, and 'the watchmen
watching the watchmen' including the likes of Google, Facebook, and
the rest of the tech glitterati.
This 'big picture stuff' required a
bit of background, which told us how recent exposes' have uncovered
how the NSA and GCHQ are collecting virtually all internet-protocol
data all the time, and not deleting it - something our friends at
Google and Facebook aren't particularly pleased about, as it seems
this was completely outwith their control! And the fact that Google
and Yahoo had the wool pulled over their eyes, as GCHQ and the NSA
'hoover-up' via the back door of the internet was unbeknown to me.
And with this in mind I can see why SXSW saw Sir Tim Berners-Lee
calling for an internet bill of rights, to 'take the web back into
our own hands'. SXSW also featured a public appearance from none
other than Edward Snowden via Skype, his first public appearance
since his whistleblowing. And his message was a call to arms to the
tech community to deliver solutions to this mass surveillance
So what does all of this mean
for our industry and for brands?
In my view, not that much really - for
now at least! But this could all change. And that depends on two
things. Snowden's call was for the tech community to deliver user
friendly versions of secure networks such as Tor. And as the
anti-surveillance movement gains momentum, secure networks could
have huge implications on the advertising industry and our ability
to collect and use consumer data. Personally, I don't think secure
networks such as this one will become pervasive - as 'the watchmen
watching the watchmen' are so heavily dependent on ad revenues. And
it's apparent that it's up to Google - the very people who get most
of this data in the first place- to protect us.
The second big issue is trust. It's
definitely true that our industry's data collection is far less
intrusive. But it's important that the advertising industry's data
collection isn't viewed in the same way as that of the government.
With more data, there's opportunity to provide better, more
tailored solutions to consumers, and provide them with 'cooler
stuff'. But it's important that we have the trust of the consumer
in all of this with regards to what data we collect, and how we use
it. Lauren Hewitt of the IPA suggested last week that just 8% of
consumers aren't really bothered about the amount of data collected
on them by brands. I probably fall into this 8% also. And suspect
that in our digital age, with the generation that is currently
being born having photos of them on Facebook and Twitter from an
early age (which I'm sure they'll thank their parents for in years
to come!), videos of them on YouTube, and everything else that
comes with the territory of being in Generation Z, that this
ambivalence will only grow. But the important thing here is
trust, and keeping consumer on side when it comes to collecting and
using personal data. And that's certainly something for the
industry to be wary of in years to come.