Why the NSA gets higher marks for privacy than business

Those of you following the steady stream of news stories on the  National Security Agency's insatiable appetite for information already know that the spy agency has figured out how to snatch data from mobile apps. Since 2007, The NSA and its partner Britain's Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) have siphoned from apps address books, buddy lists, phone logs and geographic data.

Apps targeted by the government snoops include the mobile versions of Facebook, Yahoo's Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter. Even the popular game Angry Birds is a target. Apparently, our nation's spies figured out long ago that mobile apps have pathetic data protection and are easy pickings for NSA and GCHQ talent.

Spying OK

While one would expect Americans to take to the streets in protest of these privacy abuses, most have remained silent. The anger voiced by privacy advocates and a few politicians  has failed to stir similar outrage in everyone else.

So why do Americans stay quiet while their right to privacy is trampled? They just don't believe it's a big deal when the government is gathering the data.

A survey conducted by data privacy management company Truste found that only 38 percent of U.S. consumers listed government surveillance as a privacy concern. Fact is, people consider business a far bigger threat to privacy.

People who were more concerned about privacy this year compared to last year said businesses sharing their personal information with other companies was the top concern, followed by companies tracking their online activity to target them with ads.

This means the NSA is far less likely to suffer a backlash from the average American than businesses. Trust in the latter when it comes to protecting personal data is falling, the study found. Furthermore, nearly nine in 10 consumers say they avoid companies they do not trust to protect their privacy.

No free pass for business

The NSA is excused for its overzealousness is in trying to protect the nation against terrorist attacks. No one wants another 9/11, so it seems most Americans can forgive the NSA if it takes more data than it needs.

But businesses are motivated by profit and that isn't a good reason to infringe on people's rights to privacy. Indeed, Truste found that people are already taking action against businesses by not clicking on online ads, avoiding apps that they believe do not protect data and disabling location tracking on their smartphones.

This trend is sure to have an impact on companies trying to get consumers to buy more with their smartphones. Businesses are losing consumer trust, and the only way to get it back is to show they are as interested in protecting privacy as they are in collecting data.

While the NSA gets a pass in fighting terrorism, businesses that place profit over privacy will suffer a public backlash.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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