What Publicis and Omnicom have in common with the NSA

Did you see yesterday’s front page of the New York Times?  Above the
fold, the headline declared “Momentum Builds Against N.S.A.
  The story quoted a U.S. Congressman as saying “my
constituents are expressing a growing concern on the sweeping amounts of data
that the government is compiling.”

Meanwhile, just below the fold was the story on the merger of Publicis and
Omnicom.  The author declared that the merger “signals that advertising is
now firmly in the business of Big Data
:  collecting and selling the
personal information of millions of consumers.” 

This juxtaposition is quite interesting.  One the one hand, it seems
that we are outraged by the collection of information by our government to keep
us safe, but not with companies collecting and selling our information to make
a profit. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not defending the NSA (who did many things
wrong), nor am I condemning the advertising industry (who do many things
right).   I certainly appreciate the difference between institutions
that can throw you in jail and audit your taxes from those that spam your inbox.
 And, I also see that many companies collecting and utilizing data are in
a position to cause as much harm as good, particularly in fields like financial
services and health care.    

The point I want to make is that these two news items have something in
common.  They signal the recognition that data is now the currency of our

You can tell the currency of an age by completing the following
sentence:  “Whoever has more ____ has more power.”  Throughout
history, many different assets have held this place:  land, gold,
diamonds, oil, and money.  Today the arena of competition is data. 
“Whoever has more data has more power.” 

The headline for the Publicis/Omnicom merger was “Two Ad Giants in Merger
Deal, Chasing Google.”  Every day people type information into Google’s
search engine that they would never share with the government, or even their
spouse.  So far Google has done a good job of being worthy of that level
of trust.  Let us hope that as other corporations continue to get bigger
in search of power and profits made possible by data, they too will “do no

Let us hope that the same digital technologies that empower us to take
control of our entertainment also enable us to take control of our data.
 Throughout history, we’ve seen how revolutions happen when the sources of
power get too concentrated in the hands of a few.  In the present era, we
are witnessing the potential for empowering people with Little Data
Corporations would do well to take a lesson from the NSA’s mistake, and prevent
Big Data from turning into Big Brother.  

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