When the White House invoked the s-word, it gave new legitimacy to ‘surveillance’ advertising

Digiday 20 Jul 2021 04:01
online privacy
July 20, 2021 by Kate Kaye

When President Joseph Biden issued a sweeping executive order aimed at promoting competition in the American economy, tucked inside its nearly 7,000 words was a term typically associated with spy craft and foreign adversaries: surveillance.

And even though the order mentioned “unfair competitive pressures from foreign monopolies and firms that are state-owned or state-sponsored,” that’s not where the term popped up. Instead, the word “surveillance” was used solely in relation to the rise of dominant Internet platforms and consumer protection.

“The use of that word, if it doesn’t already scare people and make them want to take action they should now,” said Arun Kumar, chief data and marketing technology officer for IPG, which owns marketing data giants Acxiom and Kinesso. He called the Biden administration’s use of the term surveillance in the context of data collection “a wakeup call for brands.”

The July 9 executive order uses “surveillance” in just two places. After referencing “the aggregation of data, unfair competition in attention markets [and] the surveillance of users” in relation to big digital platforms, the order called on the Federal Trade Commission to use its existing rulemaking powers to address “unfair data collection and surveillance practices that may damage competition, consumer autonomy, and consumer privacy.” The context of the executive order — competition — and reference to the “dominant Internet platforms” offers clues regarding how the White House defines phrases like “surveillance of users” and “surveillance practices.” However, Kumar said it could signify broader application of the word in connection with all digital advertising.

‘An intentionally pejorative term

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ZuboffKumarPresident Joseph BidenKinessoBiden administration
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