Editor’s Blog: Internet giants protest spying

By on December 11, 2013

Tech firms need to grow out of skate-boarding Californian adolescence and accept that they have a huge responsibility towards privacy.

It would appear that even the American tech world has had it with spies. Edward Snowden’s revelations have finally stung them into action. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL have published an open letter protesting about the activities of their National Security Agency to Barack Obama and Congress. 

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter, in a decidedly new tack for the IT giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”

The companies are claiming that Snowden’s exposures have undermined public faith in the internet and blame the intelligence agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests. “People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” says Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”

Marissa Mayer of Yahoo has also kicked in with her embrace of freedom, saying: “Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world.”

There are two issues here: firstly, the principles of freedom from surveillance and interference from the state without proper approval from the judiciary; and secondly the naked commercial self-interest of these organisations. The morals and the money.

We know that many of them – when faced, for example, with protests about continuing to help serve up child pornography – have always resorted to the freedom of expression, “don’t hinder the precious liberty of the web” argument to defend their business models and profit.

These companies are not Lincoln-like, fine lovers of ethics. Mark Zuckerberg may be many things but a subtle, inquiring ethical mind he isn’t. Their principles – as we’ve seen when it comes to coughing up corporation tax in countries where they operate and make vast profits – are pretty limited despite the fact that, as Jeff Jarvis says in this good piece, they are the nuclear scientists of our age. They need to grow out of skate-boarding Californian adolescence and accept that they have a huge responsibility and often fail to realise or act on this.

What they see as a potential worry is that individuals and, indeed, corporations are less likely to use their services if they think they are not safe and secure from those who would snoop on the information.

One might sum up Mayer and Zuckerberg’s misgivings up as a warning to Obama: “Don’t spy on our customers. That’s our job.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply