PRISM: The Impact on How People Engage Online

It’s been four weeks since the revelation of National Security Agency eavesdropping programme, PRISM and surprisingly, online behaviour and data sharing has not suddenly nose-dived. On my social networks, all my connections continue to post, check-in, tweet, comment, upload drunken images and share content. In fact it would seem that lots of social media content at the time was about PRISM, the irony of which is not lost on my peers. And this spike wasn’t just limited to my connections; traffic-monitoring site Alexa has also shown an increase on Facebook and Twitter since the story broke.

Many in the industry have been concerned about the immediate impact to engagement on social media; indeed, last week during the Cannes LIONS awards, marketing industry giant Sir Martin Sorrell warned the sector that users’ attitudes towards data would change and ultimately lead to a change in consumer behaviour.

Sir Martin also suggests a dramatic post-PRISM shift in attitudes; that suddenly Generation Y will not want to share personal data. He splits the end-user into two camps: the under 35’s and those over. He predicts that the over 35’s will be more sanguine post-PRISM, but the younger will lose their carefree attitude to data. He suggests that the impact of PRISM will be long reaching and will change the behaviour of the younger users. Interestingly, just a week prior, The Financial Times published an interactive tool helping users determine the worth of their personal online data. The Financial Times researchers looking into the data broker industry and reviewing industry pricing data, found that basic demographics traded at $0.50 per 1,000 people, but $260 per 1,000 if the data revealed a health condition.

The Guardian also published a great piece on why end-users should care about privacy and while I agree that privacy is important, this shouldn’t affect my engagement. People should be more wary of creating profiles in other disparate sites. As such, social login will become more commonplace and fill the gap and need for data lockers.With the recent launch of Login with Amazon, their single sign-on offering, people looking for an identity provider with security and privacy at the forefront might turn to Amazon. The Guardian urges caution while Sir Martin calls for a simpler solution for users to have more control over their data and what is shared, and that this is opted-in. Since users already trust Amazon because of their years of strong data security and privacy, Amazon is poised to be an unlikely source of control as users vote with their clicks and elect Amazon as their outsourced authentication of choice.

At the same time we might see that savvy users become more concerned about their passwords, and whether they are being stored poorly or transmitted securely. Increasingly users will have a greater understanding of the identity providers privacy policy and settings, and will ultimately use the one they trust the most to authenticate them across the social web.

The Internet is very resilient; one of the beautiful social media moments of the PRISM scandal was the creation of the  #NSACalledToTellMe hashtag. So while I agree with Sir Martin that attitudes or apathy to privacy will change, I don’t think user behaviour will and it will be a long time before there are tumbleweeds on Twitter, or a hush on Facebook.