Microsoft: 'Your Privacy Is Our Priority.' NSA: LOL!

Five Thoughts About the NSA Prism Scandal

By Published on .

1. 'Do Not Track' and other ad tech-industry self-policing efforts now seem hilariously, pathetically naive.

As of last night, thanks to The Washington Post and The Guardian, we now have official confirmation that we live in an Orwellian surveillance state. As The Post's report begins,

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

(The Post has since updated its story, based on a report published this morning by The Guardian, to note that the GCHQ, Britain's version of the NSA, "also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA.")

The companies involved in the until-now top-secret program, code-named Prism, are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. So far the companies have been, one by one, issuing denials of their involvement in Prism, but a secret PowerPoint obtained by both papers suggests that the NSA has a system that allows for "collection directly from the servers" of the nine companies.

In its initial report yesterday, The Guardian pointed out that,

Microsoft -- which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan "Your privacy is our priority" -- was the first [to connect with PRISM], with collection beginning in December 2007.

Yes, let's take a look at a bit of that campaign, shall we?

2. This is obviously a brand-integrity crisis for all of these companies.

How quickly can Microsoft pull its "Your privacy" campaign? And what can all the companies caught up in this do to mitigate the fact that they seem like clueless dupes? As of this moment, we have nine companies saying they didn't provide "back-door access" (as Google put it) to the government, while the government is saying, um, yes, you did. (James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, released a statement late last night saying that "only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted" by Prism and that steps are taken to "minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons," if that makes you feel any better.)

"We have never heard of Prism," an Apple spokesman said. Well, the NSA has definitely heard of you, Apple.

Given our cultural worship of tech entrepreneurs -- and general denigration of government bureaucracy and incompetence -- it's sort of hard to fathom NSA spooks having the upper hand on the geniuses of Silicon Valley. But remember...

3. The Internet was born of military tech.

The internet evolved from the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. It's like Google et al bought houses from a contractor, and it turns out the contractor has been quietly coming and going as he pleases. And Google and the rest are all, like, "Wait, that's impossible! We have really good locks! We didn't give a copy of the keys to anybody!"

4. What does Obama -- the man, and the political brand -- even stand for anymore?

Speaking of branding issues, President Obama "has evolved from ardent civil libertarian to surveillance hardliner," as Daniel Klaidman and Eli Lake put it in their Daily Beast post titled "How Barack Obama Made Friends With Big Brother."

5. Just in case you missed it, The New York Times editorial board is really, really disappointed in Bo.

See: President Obama's Dragnet.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.
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