Privacy for America!

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Our overclass doesn’t lack for chutzpah. As reported by Advertising Age, corporate marketers are hoping to get Congress to pass new “privacy” rules for data-use. By “privacy,” they mean “exposure,” of course.

The comprehensive dishonesty of the effort’s official explanation would, like the very name of its sponsoring group, make Big Brother choke on his Irish coffee. It is also, to put it one way, a true sign of the times.

The real story here is that the proposed new rules would, as Ad Age reports, be gestural and toothless, and would, thanks to their existence at the federal level, put a stop to individual states trying to create actual limits on big businesses’ behavior-surveillance efforts.

For students of propaganda, one interesting — and demanding — task would be to add notes and revisions correcting this official mission statement, to make it speak the actual, behind-the-scenes truth about its actual purpose. Literally every sentence here would require important changes. Some sentences lie with their every single word.

And this is no side effort. As Ad Age explains,

Five of the ad industry’s largest trade bodies have banded together to create “Privacy for America,” a coalition that aims to sway Congress in creating federal legislation on consumer data privacy.

The trade bodies — which include the 4A’s, Association of National Advertisers, Digital Advertising Alliance, Interactive Advertising Bureau and Network Advertising Initiative — are in a race to influence Congress in how lawmakers create federal guidelines surrounding user data for digital marketing.

Companies including Google, Facebook, AT&T, Hearst, Conde Nast, Disney, CBS and Amazon are all represented by trade bodies in the new group.

Frequent readers will know that TCT is fond of repeating Robert Heilbroner’s quotation about the dire long-term implications of a building a human culture around telling ornate lies for money. As “Privacy for America” shows, we now have a culture in which the most powerful players tell ornate lies about telling ornate lies for money.

Baskin the Truth

baskin Jonathan Salem Baskin, pictured at right, is a marketing consultant. Today, he voiced the system, ala Fred Taylor and Eric Schmidt, on Advertising Age:

Our snooping puts the National Security Agency to shame.

From the level of the internet service provider, through to social-media platforms and websites, and including apps, ads and clickable content (like videos), we collect a vast amount of information on consumers’ online behavior (and their geophysical location), then use it to tee-up search results, info and ads to millions of people millions of times every day … ideally to each one of them uniquely so. We don’t do it to keep anybody safe, however. We do it to sell stuff. It’s the mercenary make-money benefit we gain through all of that non-commercial friending and conversing we do with consumers.

We call it “improving user experience,” and not only are entire business monetization plans based on it (like Facebook), it’s the driver of our hopes for Big Data selling things to people who no longer want to be sold to. Yet the only time we talk about it is when we ask consumers to accept usage terms, and then only in the dense secret code of mouseprint that is to disclosure what James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is to clarity. We tell them little, hope they’ll understand even less, and then we have the audacity to claim that they’re OK with it when we ask them.

Our hope is that they’ll stay unaware of the information they give away or, at worst, maintain a belief that it’s worth doing so in exchange for ads and other content that’s somewhat pre-qualified to be interesting to them. But there’s a fine line between convenience and manipulation, and the foundational idea of “consumer choice” loses its meaning if that choice isn’t truly free.

That’s some serious honesty there, folks.

And, while he certainly doesn’t favor the proper answer — public ire and public enterprise — arriving, Baskin isn’t entirely foolish about the prospects, either:

If we didn’t think that blurring that line was a potential bomb, why are we so shy about discussing it, and almost congenitally incapable of making sure that consumers understand the breadth and depth (and outcomes) of our snooping?

Just like the NSA’s programs, it can’t stay secret forever. Imagine if a commercially-savvy whistle-blower emerged with detailed proof of how user data were collected, shared and then exploited by a variety of businesses and, somehow, connected it back to illustrate the ways consumer choices are limited, while unfairly promoting purchases. What if The Yes Men, AdBusters, or some other, new culture-busting group chose to attack data tools with publicity stunts and videos that got peoples’ attention?

Baskin’s proposal is, of course, to use marketing to market marketing:

We marketers don’t talk about this issue much, probably because it’s so complicated and thorny. But it haunts our best hopes for the future. And, while people may let Snowden’s tale end up a somewhat distant espionage adventure, the scarier story is what’s done to every consumer in the name of efficient commerce. Without a far more creative and strategic approach to telling it, I fear others (or other events) will tell it for brands.

That story doesn’t have a happy ending.

If all this is not a script for action, I don’t know what is…

AT&T = Market-Totalitarian Spyware

eye spy Walter Brasch said it well: “The government’s knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children’s coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone.”

Today, AT&T — the corporation that employs unfunny, phony kindergartners acting scriptedly silly to make the radically false claim that its services are somehow better than those of its fellow bloated, crappy, vastly overpriced, marketing-intensive capitalist telecom oligopolies — admitted it is plunging fully into the private spying game. Per Engadget:

In an update on its Public Policy Blog, AT&T disclosed that it may [TCT ed: “may” — ROFL!] begin selling anonymous user data to retailers and marketers, with the end goal being “to deliver more relevant advertising to… customers.” The carrier is far from the first to sell aggregate information — here’s looking at you, Verizon — but the provider is unique in combining data on TV, WiFi and wireless usage. The company said it could also provide aggregate info about users’ app usage and U-Verse info.

Also notable in the new privacy policy: AT&T notes that it could sell information about individual users, with the stipulation that the data would still be kept anonymous, and media research companies would only be able to use that info in aggregate reports. While this is hardly a case of AT&T pushing new privacy boundaries, users can opt out of the program.

For any souls unlucky enough — ala your faithful TCT editor — to labor under this particular profit fief, here is the home for opting out.

(Behold the difficulty of many of the “available” opt-outs!)