Direct Marketers Object to Obama’s NSA Comparison

The Direct Marketing Association strongly disputes what it sees as President Obama’s comparison of phone metadata collection to data-based marketing during a speech on intelligence and privacy issues.

The Direct Marketing Association strongly disputes what it sees as President Obama’s comparison of phone metadata collection to data-based marketing in his speech last week on intelligence and privacy issues.

With the pressure on last Friday, President Obama tried to reassure the public that the federal government would respect people’s privacy when it came to data collection. But in the process, he took a swipe at the private sector’s use of consumer data—and marketers aren’t happy.

The president’s remark came during a nearly 45-minute speech on intelligence and privacy issues at the Department of Justice. In the immediate aftermath of his speech, which announced a plan to limit the scope of the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program, the Direct Marketing Association pushed back against what it saw as a mischaracterization of the industry’s use of big data.

Data Practices Compared

The statement that drew DMA’s ire was a line emphasizing that the federal government must be held to a higher standard than the corporate sector when it comes to big data.

“Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze your data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer or smartphone,” he said. “But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say, ‘Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.’ For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.”

The president ordered a review of big data collection and privacy practices, to be led by White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. The marketing industry has raised concerns that the review might result in new regulatory limits on marketers.

Industry ResponsE

The DMA, a 97-year-old industry group that focuses on data-driven marketing and boasts a major domestic and international presence, disputed the president’s characterization of the industry in the speech—while noting that the administration’s focus on consumer privacy issues is nothing new.

“While a nod to continued administration focus on consumer privacy in the president’s remarks was unsurprising,” the association said in a statement, “DMA was disappointed to see the responsible use of consumer data for marketing purposes conflated with ‘government surveillance.'”

The difference between data-driven marketing and bulk metadata collection, the association says, is the industry’s high standards, reflected by the DMA’s four-decade-old Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice [PDF].

The association’s statement added that the data-driven marketing industry brings significant value to the economy in the form of jobs and revenue.

In its statement, the DMA called on Congress to “protect our data-driven economy” by focusing on fundamental goals that include passing a national data security and breach notification law, preempting state laws that could complicate regulatory standards, updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (a contentious 1986 law), and allowing the industry to continue to self-regulate.

(photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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