Appalled by NSA Spying, Americans Seek Privacy

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Protesters hold posters of Edward Snowden in front of the German parliament building, the Reichstag, prior to a special meeting of the parliament on US-German relationships, in Berlin, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A new poll finds that Americans are increasingly concerned about their online privacy — and it’s the result of increased media attention on NSA surveillance. The poll, USA Today’s Byron Acohido writes, is the “latest proof point of what could, at the end of the day, take hold as a tectonic societal shift: the return of privacy as a social norm. Call it the Edward Snowden effect.” The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by software company ESET, found that four out of five Americans have changed their social media security settings, and most of those people have made the changes in the last six months. Acohido writes:

…[T]he steady flow of revelations from the Snowden documents, detailing the pervasive nature of the National Security Agency’s anti-terrorism surveillance activities, has kept privacy top of mind for many consumers.

Of course the NSA can tap into online data to the extent it does largely because commercial companies, led by Google and Facebook, pursue business models that treat consumer privacy as a free profit-making resource.

It took a wild card, in the form of Edward Snowden, to get the masses focused on who is doing online tracking and profiling, and for what agendas.

The poll comes as technology companies are trying to reassure their users — particularly users abroad — that their information will be safe from US surveillance efforts. In the wake of media reports that the NSA spied on data centers, Google and Yahoo are taking new steps to encrypt the user traffic flowing between those centers, writes Nicole Perlroth at The New York Times’ Bits blog.

On Monday, Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, said Yahoo had plans to add extra levels of security to the company’s business operation.

“As you know, there have been a number of reports over the last six months about the U.S. government secretly accessing user data without the knowledge of tech companies, including Yahoo,” Ms. Mayer wrote. “I want to reiterate what we have said the past: Yahoo has never given access to our data centers to the NSA or any other government agency. Ever.”

Both Yahoo and Google secure their data centers with full-time security details and state-of-the-art heat sensors, video cameras and, even in some cases, iris scanning technology. When servers at Google pass their prime, employees bludgeon them with steel pistons and put them through industrial shredders before recycling them, to ensure no data is left behind.

But that data flows from center to center on fiber optic cables owned by Internet backbone providers — and that, Google executives believe, is where intelligence agencies are tapping them.

Read more about “The Snowden Effect” in USA Today »

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