Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Shopping at the NSA

A new Harris Interactive survey shows that Americans have become more wary of online shopping and banking because of government snooping. Amrita Jayakumar writes at the Washington Post:

The NSA is intentionally undermining Internet security with its spyware and break-ins and its sponsorship of compromised software. But it is safe to say that the NSA does not mean to undermine the U.S. economy. If 26 percent of consumers are shopping less, or are slower to put their money in the bank and take it out again, that is a sign of lack of marketplace confidence, and it can slow down the entire economy. It is not so much that consumers feel like they are putting themselves at risk by shopping online (though some, of course, do feel that way). Rather, people are stopping to ask what kind of impression their online actions might make on the spies who are watching everyone’s transactions. It might not seem like much of a slowdown, but the result of this self-conscious approach to online transactions is that each transaction takes more time. When individual transactions take more time, it allows fewer transactions in any given period of time. Metaphorically, the wheels of commerce turn slower.

This is not what the politicians in charge of the NSA want to see. To paraphrase a former president, if people everywhere become self-conscious about shopping, then the terrorists have won. Ironically, this effect may lead to corrective action where the abstract concern about the ideal of personal privacy did not. Taking on the Washington mindset, if people want to protect their private lives, well, they’ll get over it. But if people are reluctant to go shopping, now that’s a real problem.