Please Stop Comparing NSA Spying with Marketing

nsa spying versus marketing

One of the conversations that I continue to see rising to the top of the NSA spying controversy is that companies are already collecting this kind of data on Americans for marketing efforts.

For those of you outside the United States, the Constitution is quite clear with the Fourth Amendment to our Bill of Rights as citizens.

The Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Whether or not you believe that the collection of meta data should or shouldn't be covered under the 4th Amendment isn't going to be argued here. I have my own beliefs but I'm not a Constitutional attorney (and even they don't agree).

What I do want to argue is the goal and methodology of meta data collection. For a company, this data is collected to personalize and improve the user's experience online with the goal of increasing acquisition, retention or customer value. That's a touchy subject for some – especially how the data is accumulated and whether or not the consumer provided their permission. Most of the time they do, but it's buried in the legal mumbo-jumbo of the terms of use you agree to when you sign up for a service.

I know I'm a marketer so my opinion is skewed, but I love that companies are paying attention to me. I want to share information with them and I want them to use it to improve my customer experience. If that means product recommendations or targeted messaging, please do! I love product recommendations!

Now, let's equate the goal of marketers to the goal of government spying. The government's pursuit of meta data is to identify patterns that lead to deeper investigation of citizens based on their behavior. That investigation could lead to charges and ultimately, incarceration. So while marketers are looking to sell more with data… government is looking to find and imprison people to protect Americans.

That's not even close to the same so please stop comparing the two.

I don't mean to be flippant, but please look at the history of our incarcerated in this country. According to data, 95% of felony convictions are the result of plea bargains with no formal evidence ever presented, and most never bother with an appeal.

So let's take the longshot here. I travel a lot and I discuss politics online. How long would it take to overlay my conversations questioning the government with actual anti-government or terrorist activity geographically throughout the United States? This week, I'm heading to Chicago. Perhaps there's a sleeper cell in Chicago within a few miles of my hotel that the government is collecting data on. How many overlaps will it take to procure enough circumstantial evidence to put a case together on me? Combine this with the guns I own and how does that appear?

Now line it all up – from my government criticism, my military service, my travel to large cities throughout the world, my ownership of guns – and add to it the full force of federal prosecutors with unlimited budgets. I don't have the resources to hire high-powered attorneys to defend myself. Is that really a longshot? I don't think so. Again, our history is absolutely full of overzealous prosecutors who have gone after conviction after conviction to improve their political pursuits.

Please don't compare the marketing of companies to the goals of spying on citizens for national security. They're completely different.

Attention NSA: Just a note that I'm not anti-government and would never take up arms outside of defending myself. I'm very much supportive of local government and law enforcement. I'm often an opponent of federalization, though, for its inefficiency, overreach and corruption.


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    Nice thoughts here Doug. It’s true more and more we’re starting to see the cross-over conversations happening with NSA, big data, and particularly in the world of predictive analytics. As you say, it’s not really an accurate lens to be viewing the narrative through however. I would argue that part of what helps marketers do a better job of “not interrupting” or “being less creep” is the ability is around the idea of customer centricity. There is such a thing as BAD customers. They can eat up energy and resources, hurt your conversion rates, etc.

    Why would I want to throw a huge net out there to capture a bunch of junk, and obviously annoy people in the process. If you told me I had two choices 100 leads or 1,000 leads each bucket for $1,000. However, I knew that the 100 leads look far more like past closed/won opportunities. I’m going to play the percentages and invest in the 100 leads. Why? Because it’s more important that we give our sales counterparts good pitches to swing at. To continue the baseball analogy, you don’t want your sales reps swinging at every junk pitch…chances are they’ll strike out a lot. It’s far more lucrative to increase the batting average of your reps on pitches they can drive.

    This mindset I would argue not only creates higher quality sales conversations but boosts customer experience as well. I suppose there are always going to be the Marketers in the bunch that are going to spray and pray and make us look more like invasive NSA-minded agents. As we enter a world of further innovations in DPM (data platform management), predictive analytics, and automation – modern marketers need to keep ahead of this narrative on the true power and purposes of this technology. Otherwise, we’ll continue to fall victim to this salty Snowden chronicle.

What do you think?

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