customer experience, NSA Spying: Should Data Analysts, Cloud Vendors Be Concerned?

It’s the government against the people. Well, if you consider AOL, Facebook, Yahoo!, Apple, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Twitter “the people.”

Those technology and social media giants launched a campaign against the government this week that included a letter to President Obama and Congress lobbying for reform on citizen surveillance efforts.

This summer, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden exposed details of secret government intelligence programs he claimed that while aiming to prevent terrorist attacks violated privacy rights and civil liberties.

Maybe it will be government against your bottom line? (Made you look).

Privacy Issues in Europe

So what does this mean to you? The cloud content management vendor? The digital marketer who relies on social media analytics to spark marketing campaigns?

Will the push by the technology giants for more privacy controls by the government actually open doors for more privacy controls in unintended places — like your analytics bucket? Will people — potential customers for businesses — be less inclined to divulge information online?

Look across the pond to Europe, where privacy concerns have been soaring for a while now, even before the NSA news broke this past summer.

In Britain, the CGHQ, the country’s intelligence and security organization, teamed with the NSA and planted real agents into video games, Snowden revealed.

“We’ve been hearing for some time now from those of our vendor members who provide content management services in the cloud that compliance with privacy laws is a concern for many potential cloud or SaaS customers based in Europe, or with European operations,” Doug Miles, director of market intelligence for AIIM, told CMSWire.

Differing Rules, Interpretations

Each European country, Miles told us, has its own rules, and its own interpretation of those rules.

“The revelations about NSA and CGHQ activities have raised the issue to a much higher level, particularly where cloud services might be hosted or backed up on US-based servers,” Mile said. “To me, this open letter speaks as much to a potential loss of corporate business outside of the US as to an altruistic view of individual privacy.”

Miles also pointed to the European draft regulation that harmonizes the European Union data privacy laws — and in its current terms makes it harder to provide offshore cloud services, he said. Britain Prime Minister David Cameron managed to kick the introduction of that into 2015, but it’s sure to affect some decisions, Miles told us.

So what can cloud content management vendors do help allay their concerns with government intrusion in this arena? 

“There is also an interesting report from the EU here on how well Safe Harbor agreements are being policed," Miles said, "so vendors they should certainly make sure they, or their sub-contracted cloud providers, are up to scratch on this.”

Government Not The Problem

Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst for Forrester Research, said he’s more concerned with social media organizations, syndicated data and all market-oriented enterprises rather than the intelligence community as far as privacy goes.

“To them, the more information is personal the more value it has to them, and we know where this can lead,” Le Clair told CMSWire. “The NSA debacle in some sense has distracted consumers from their current and potential abuses. The ‘open’ letter is possibly a way of furthering the distraction. They need to be very conscious of the potential brand damage that abuses may lead to.”

What kind of capabilities should the government have/be limited to in this arena?

The government, he said, needs to leverage advancing analytics -- i.e., mining of e-mails and text messages to detect patterns -- that may lead to a compromise of our security.

“This is the ultimate weapon in the fight against terrorism and far better than traditional military means,” Le Clair said. “Governance based on transparency and clear policy is critical going forward.”

He cited examples of first-level surveillance based on blind data to detect patterns and then clear statement of parameters that allow second- and third-level analysis involving personal information.

“The intelligence community should not be defensive about the need for advanced analytics,” Le Clair said. “It will only take another major incident, and they will be criticized from the other perspective. How did you not know, etc.?"

How, though, do organizations balance customer privacy with gathering data to improve products/customer experience?

“Strong information management and governance that combines structured and unstructured information,” Le Clair told us. “This is a strong focus for Forrester today.”

Government IS the Problem

Social media the problem? Dag Holmboe disagrees.

As CEO and founder of Klurig Analytics, an organization that uses social media analytics to help companies determine customer behavior, Holmboe sees a clear difference between government data-gathering and social media analytics.

“The main difference between government looking at your private data and social media looking into your data is that with social media, I’ve given out that information because I wanted to give out that information,” Holmboe told “I want to let the world know what I do and what I think, and I put it out there. I should be aware that the information can be shared and used for various different things.”

When the government mines data from, for instance, cell phone communication, in essence they are “spying on me.”

“I’m not a Constitutional lawyer, but … as soon as the government jumps in, that’s going against the whole democracy of freedom of speech and freedom of everything.”

Privacy Concerns Nothing New

Ultimately, data mining on individuals is “not a new problem,” said Edwin Marguiles, vice president of social & mobile product management for Five9, where he focuses on social engagement for customer care.

The old school way of data mining for sales and marketing initiatives was, according to Marguiles:

  • Go to the library and look up companies or individuals in published research books, collate phone numbers and start calling people
  • Use phone books to find out people's names and addresses
  • Publishers sell/swap/create magazine subscription data (including demographic information like job, salary, title, likes, dislikes, etc.) with marketing list companies

Using a combination of these, marketers and sellers had, and still have, fairly rich information on individuals, especially from magazine subscription demographics, Marguiles told

“This is not a new problem,” Marguiles said. “Social networking and the Internet just accelerates access to information people have been selling for a long time. Every media source provides the potential for abuse.”

Marguiles, who specializes himself on the social part of customer service contact centers, said when it comes down to privacy vs. using individual data, “it's all about the intent of use.”

His company’s intent, he said, is to provide superior service to customers via social channels. Analytics, he added, are used primarily to count Service Level Agreement and agent Key Performance Indicator metrics.

“These are standard metrics dealing with how long it has taken to respond to customers,” Marguiles added, “the sentiment change of customers on certain issues and trends on certain persistent business issues — which helps service companies to staff properly.”

Title image by gubh83 (Shutterstock).