After Trump’s Win, Security Groups and Marketers Are Anxious About Digital Privacy

Some already are taking a stand

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Is Big Brother about go to "bigly?"

President-elect Donald Trump has many consumers and marketers concerned about online security. When Trump becomes president on Jan. 20, there is widespread belief that the federal government will attempt to gain unprecedented access to everyone's data.

Among those expressing concern and taking a stand are executives at the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit community that actively promotes online privacy. On Cyber Monday (Nov. 28), Mozilla will unveil a cybersecurity-awareness event in New York that runs through Dec. 14. Thousands of people are expected to attend, motivated by Trump's comments about wanting to "have that power" to see former opponent Hillary Clinton's emails, as well as by the prospect that Russian hackers may have impacted the election and Apple's fight with the FBI over backdoor access to iPhones.

"We don't hope this new administration will want [security] backdoors, but they probably will," said Denelle Dixon-Thayer, chief business and legal officer for Mozilla.

Her group's expansive 4,000-square-foot indoor exhibit, called The Glass Room, will include installations such as "Forgot Your Password," which will show all 4.7 million leaked passwords from a 2012 LinkedIn hack. The collection is designed to demonstrate how passwords are so surprisingly similar. Also on hand will be Berlin-based Tactical Technology Collective, which will teach visitors about the array of privacy tools that are at their disposal. "We want to get people more conscious of the technology they choose and use everyday," said Mark Surman, Mozilla Foundation's executive director. "It's really about starting a consumer movement for a healthier internet."

If the popularity of Signal, a free app that protects email privacy through encryption software, is any indication, that movement is well underway. According to Google Trends, online consumer interest for "Signal app" doubled between April 30 and the week after the election. Following Trump's win on Nov. 8, a spike in its downloads "started immediately, and the rate of new users has continued to increase day after day," said Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder of the app. "Millions of people were already using Signal before the election, but we've never seen a single event that has resulted in this kind of day-over-day increase in new installs and activity."

Signal, part of nonprofit Open Whisper Systems, doesn't buy ads, but it's probable that other revenue-minded security brands will start ramping up marketing. Well before the election, Cassandra Report, a youth-focused research firm, found that 53 percent of consumers under age 34 are willing to pay for privacy software. "Given the contentious post-election climate, this mindset is only poised to grow," noted Rachel Saunders, insights and strategy director at Cassandra.

With holiday retail at stake, online wariness could snowball considering the data-breach narrative this year, with highly publicized hacks at Neiman Marcus and Eddie Bauer. The best way for brands to react, remarked Alan Gellman, CMO of Esurance, "is to never forget [security] is our responsibility and privilege at the same time."

Adam Scheich, vp of engineering at online wine seller Winc, added, "If you lose a customer's trust, it's nearly impossible to get it back."

The same could be said for a president. Yet marketers are particularly anxious to see what storylines Trump's surveillance policies create.

"We have to wait and see because the president-elect has already changed his mind since election night on so many things," said Dipanshu Sharma, CEO of xAd. "I don't think we really know where Mr. Trump stands."

This story first appeared in the November 28, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

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@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.