Privacy Coverage Surges on Television Networks

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Both CBS and NBC aired news reports on online privacy this week as coverage of the topic heats up among television news organizations.

CBS followed its recent "60 Minutes" piece on online profiling with coverage Dec. 5 on "Eye On America," and NBC Nightly News examined Internet privacy Dec. 7 with more coverage airing concurrently on MSNBC.

"Clearly, there's been an increase in coverage, particularly after the '60 Minutes' piece … but more and more people are going online, and the concerns are being mirrored in mainstream media," said David Steer, a spokesman with the TRUSTe online seal program, Palo Alto, CA.

Steer noted, however, that "these pieces tend to not get to the complexity of the issues about what's really going on."

Indeed, TRUSTe spokeswoman Lori Fena was given only a few seconds in the "60 Minutes" report to convey what is happening in the privacy debate. And although television news coverage is hampered by time constraints, many marketers note that it is far too sensationalized.

On this week's NBC Nightly News piece, for example, correspondent Pete Williams said privacy advocates were so concerned about the sophistication of marketers that "the day could come soon when you could be searching for financial information online and then suddenly have the phone ring with someone trying to sell you stock."

That tone is being picked up by local stations as well. NBC affiliate Channel 10 News in Providence, RI, began an evening news segment this week warning viewers that "corporate eyes could be spying on your every syllable, scanning every sentence - even your most private entries."

The focus on privacy is likely to continue, with viewers sure to tune in when a celebrity such as CBS News' Dan Rather says, "a tidal wave of buying and selling online is coming. But is it safe?"

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