Advertising agency Asatsu-DK produced a report to METI of their internet spying program. The agency was contracted to snoop on public internet and social media traffic in order to prevent “harmful rumor”. The report heavily looked at what was posted on Twitter. It also looked at posts on public discussion boards and other forms of online media such as blogs and websites.
The report documents the type of concerns and questions people discussed online then formed official answers that would be used to try to respond to concerns. In the type of data collecting done some was done by manually reading or looking for information while some was done automatically. Either method would have provided the opportunity to also collect the identity of people posting online about Fukushima. This is more troubling in light of the previous threats by the government to go after people spreading what they considered “harmful rumor” using a law enacted after the accident. While what people post online is generally public for all to see there is an expectation of at least being left alone by government entities. The combination of the 3rd party spying by the government and the previously enacted rumors law raises questions about privacy and the use of 3rd party companies to do what a government may be legally barred from doing.
There have been many incidents in Japan and outside of Japan of people being harassed in various ways for speaking out about Fukushima or even simply documenting the events and sharing them publicly. Who has been behind some of the ongoing harassment is not clear.
The agency Asatsu-DK that did the snooping efforts for METI is one of the larger agencies in Japan and has offices in 15 countries. Asatsu-DK’s work for METI appears to have violated their own corporate code of conduct.
“The ADK Group shall respect the dignity and rights of all humans and behave appropriately, observing all relevant laws, regulations and social rules, not only when providing communications services to customers but when undertaking all associated activities.”
“When conducting business overseas, the ADK Group shall observe international rules and the laws and regulations of various countries, and also respect local cultures and customs. When managing local subsidiaries, we will endeavor to localize their operations and contribute to the advancement of their respective countries.”
“When conducting its business activities, the Group shall manage privacy and information in an appropriate manner. In particular, it shall respect its obligation to protect the trade secrets of its business partners. At the same time, the Group shall appropriately and meticulously manage important information, including information about individuals it has come into contact with in the course of conducting its business.”
“The ADK Group shall strive hard to benefit society in the communications domain. To this end, the Group shall provide ideas and creative services free of charge where appropriate, working in close cooperation with public entities and organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit organizations (NPOs), and outside entities with specialist expertise.
The Group shall encourage employees to use their capabilities and experience for the benefit of society.”
It is not clear what the extent of ADK’s involvement is because the details of METI’s (or other agencies in Japan’s government) efforts have not been fully disclosed to the public. It is assumed that ADK shared all of their data with METI. This would include personally identifiable information on the people they spied on online. We do not know if the contract with METI included participating in the harassment of individuals but it is clear that at least in part they may have contributed to providing METI with the online identities of potential targets for harassment.
Types of harassment have been everything from online harassment and annoyance tactics, people being harassed via their work, receiving disturbing phone calls and threats all the way up to people in Japan being interrogated. The involvement of advertising agencies beyond product promotion and sometimes demographic work into snooping on the public is a concerning trend. In the US it is more common to see companies that do just data mining or demographic work engage in this sort of activity. One recent US incident was the company HB Gary that was involved with personal data collection and other online activities for the US government.
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