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Thursday, 10/04/14

Internet Surveillance and what it means for brands
By Euan Godon, Planner/Buyer


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 issue.

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.

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