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Does the NSA or Google Spy More on You? [Burning Questions Ep. 4]

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Today’s Burning Question for online privacy expert John Sileo:

“Who is the bigger spy, the NSA or Google?”

I thought that was a really fascinating question.  Of course, it comes because in the last couple of months the NSA has been outed by Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee.  The NSA (National Security Agency) has been spying on our phone calls- who we’re calling and when, our emails- who we’re emailing and what about, and even our social media posts.

The latest scandal is called “Muscular”.  Somehow, the NSA has gotten between the transmissions of Google and Yahoo.  In other words, the NSA has been “sniffing” the emails going back and forth between the two largest email providers in the US and this has angered the tech giants like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.

Recently there was an article in the New York Times about the tech companies wanting to defend their privacy.  In particular, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, has gone on the record to the Wall Street Journal talking about how we need to do a better job defending our privacy.  (Watch the video embedded in our BQ video.)

Let’s take a look at a few of Schmidt’s comments.  First, he said, “You have to take a strong position in favor of privacy.  Do you really want the government tracking all of your information?”  I find it very ironic that this man whose company tracks all of our information is asking this question!  You could substitute Google’s company name for government:  “Do you really want Google tracking all of your information?”  Here he is calling for privacy on one hand and violating it on the other.

The second statement that is fascinating is, “Let’s start with appropriate oversight and transparency.  You don’t have to violate the privacy of every single citizen in America in order to find them.”  You might also say you don’t have to violate the privacy of every single citizen or track the privacy of every single user of Google in order to market to them.  It takes a lot of gumption for somebody who is so focused on collecting our private data to say that the NSA is collecting too much information!

So, the question again is, “Who is the bigger spy, the NSA or Google?”  Well, of course, the NSA is much larger and is collecting more information, but mostly thanks to companies like Google.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and online privacy expert, as well as the CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. Recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

USA Today MUSCULUR

Talking Surveillance Once Again–Know Your Phone Carrier More Precisely

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phone moneyWhen you log onto the Verizon Precision Market Insights website, the giant catch phrase that jumps out at you in bold red letters is:

“Know your audience more precisely.

Drive your business more effectively.”

Verizon is pulling no punches when it comes to letting advertisers know that they have valuable data- OUR data- and they’re willing to share it.  For a price of course.  Phone carriers, who see a continued decline in contract subscriber growth and voice calls, are hoping to generate new sources of revenue by selling the data they collect about us.  They already collect information about user location and Web surfing and application use (which informs them about such things as travels, interests and demographics) to adjust their networks to handle traffic better.  Now they have begun to sell this data.

Note: Verizon customers can OPT-OUT of this data sharing by logging into their accounts online and following the opt-out instructions. I recommend that you do so immediately.

Instead of seeing themselves just as providers of valuable services to their customers by providing a means of communication, carriers now see the potential profit beyond the service.  Businesses such as malls, stadiums and billboard owners can gather information about the activities and backgrounds of cellphone users in particular locations.  For example, Verizon’s data service is being used by the Phoenix Suns to map where people attending its games live “in order to increase advertising in areas that haven’t met expectations”, according to Scott Horowitz, a team vice president.

In Verizon’s own words, their analytics platforms allows companies to:

  • Understand the demographic, geographic and psychographic makeup of (their) target audience.
  • Isolate where consumer groups work and live, the traffic patterns of a target audience and demographic information about
what groups visit particular locations.
  • Learn what mobile content (their) target audience is most likely to consume so (they) can cross-sell and up-sell more easily.

The program does not include information from Verizon’s government or corporate clients and individuals do have the right to opt out on Verizon’s website.  Some European companies have launched similar programs and Jeff Weber of AT&T says they are studying ways to analyze and sell customer data while giving users a way to opt out, but at this point they do not have a similar product.

Carriers do acknowledge the privacy issues related to such data surveillance and companies say they don’t sell data about individuals but rather about groups of people. But Chris Soghoian, a privacy specialist at the American Civil Liberties Union, is worried according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.  In it, he says “the ability to profit from customer data could give wireless carriers an incentive to track customers more precisely than connecting calls requires and to store even more of their Web browsing history. That could broaden the range of data about individuals’ habits and movements that law enforcement could subpoena.  It’s the collection that’s the scary part, not the business use.”

In other words, it’s about more than well-meaning companies collecting our data; it’s that their company databases are vulnerable to attacks by hackers, competitors and foreign governments. And when a breach happens, it’s our data that goes missing.

John Sileo is a keynote privacy speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable. Watch John on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.