Speaking to The Guardian, Sorrell said he believes revelations about the US National Security Agency’s programme will strike fear into even the most lackadaisical online user.
Sorrell has never been exactly slow on coming forward on most industry topics – with the marketing press often hanging attentively on his every utterance – but this time it is personal: more than 25% of WPP’s £10bn-plus in annual revenues comes from what he calls “data investment management” for clients. It also has many dedicated data divisions.
“I think Prism and what’s happening in the US will have a very significant impact, I think it is game changing,” he said. “The privacy issue is going to be raised to a new level by this. It will alter people’s views on privacy, even younger people.
“Even among under 35s, people will become very concerned about privacy. It is going to get aired I think quite extensively publicly, I think it is a matter of great public interest.”
Sorrell added: “I can’t imagine what people of my age and much younger think about it and I think it will alter their views. The fact that the government has access to this data on an organised basis came as a surprise to me. And I would pride myself as being perhaps one of those people that knew more about those things than the average.”
He said he had quizzed senior executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google at a private WPP event last week, but they were tight-lipped about the issue.
“It is not something people feel comfortable, even in a semi-private or private environment, talking about,” he added.
Sorrell’s views are likely to add to the growing clamour over Prism-gate. Last week privacy campaigners seized on the scandal to launch a stinging attack on those trying to water down the proposed new EU data laws, potentially scuppering the lobbying gains of the UK marketing industry.
Meanwhile industry experts have already claimed the uproar could have a serious impact on the use of marketing data, with one saying: “Customers might just think twice about interacting with brands if they think their every move is being monitored.”
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