stop the snoops
The US government has been watching you. Technology’s big players need to grow a pair and help make our data private again
America’s biggest tech companies have a unique opportunity to be the agents of change in 2014. Not in a “thinner, lighter and more powerful” way; not even in a “more pixels-per-inch” way. No, I’m talking about the kind of seismic shift that will make the world better and safer for everyday tech users. I’m talking about spearheading the return of privacy. You guys remember privacy, right?
You see, our favourite companies, from Apple to Google, Microsoft to Facebook, have furnished us with exciting tech we love to use, but they’ve also let us down. Those firms we trusted, perhaps naively, with our most intimate data haven’t looked after it. As a result, the US Government’s National Security Agency (NSA) was able to launch the largest civilian surveillance operation ever undertaken. You may have heard about it.
We may never know whether these companies just left the back door ajar for government snoops, or were complicit in the scandal, rolling over for their bellies to be tickled. Indeed, their intentions were probably good. Lending a hand in the fight against terrorism can be commended, while taking a stand against the White House would be tricky indeed for business. Regardless of the circumstances, though, they owe us. Here’s what needs to happen…
For starters, the social networks, email providers and messaging services must shore up defences. Encrypt data five times over and put up an electric fence for all we care – just get the job done. They must also stop hiding behind so-called legal obligations and push back hard. If the NSA can legally request anything, then Apple and Google’s insistence they aren’t “illegally sharing” our data means nothing.
The fight back, of sorts, has started. Late last year, an alliance of these leading tech companies wrote an open letter to President Obama calling for an overhaul of the controversial surveillance programs. It was a start, but smelled of a PR stunt aimed at shifting the focus of blame and courting public favour. It won’t be enough and, quite frankly, Facebook criticising the government for violating privacy is like Pepsi knocking Coca-Cola for causing tooth decay.
Instead, these massive, billion-dollar companies must do what massive billiondollar companies do in America: use their power, money and influence to affect political change. If it works for the NRA gun nuts, just think what Tim Cook and Eric Schmidt could achieve if they stepped up.
Tech giants have done their part to get us into this mess, but they may be the only ones who can actually get us out of it. If we’re ever to fully trust them again, however, the sea change must begin now.