For the first time since breaking into technology journalism 20-plus years ago, I am ashamed of my industry. Oh, there were plenty of embarrassments over the years—Microsoft/DOJ, the Razorfish non-existent business model, Larry Ellison’s war with the San Jose airport about flying his fighter jet, and Apple’s Lisa, to name a few—but never has the industry sunk to such a low.
By voluntary participating in a massive government spy campaign, which started under the Bush administration and escalated under the Obama administration under a program now known as Operation Prism, technology behemoths Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Yahoo (YHOO), Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), AOL (AOL), Skype, Youtube and Paltalk have abused their power and left a massive stain on information privacy rights of all of their customers. Add to this the Verizon (VZ) scandal, in which the company provided all its customers' phone call info to the NSA and it is just downright shameful.
Shame on you, Google. Shame on you, Microsoft. Shame on you, Yahoo. Shame on you, Facebook. Shame on you, Apple. Shame on you, AOL. Shame on you, Skype. Shame on you, Youtube. Shame on you, Paltalk. And shame on you, Verizon. You have aided the complete dismantling of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing American citizens the right to privacy.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am as patriotic as they get and all for fighting the war on terrorism. Yes, it’s still a war. And desperate times call for desperate measures. And yes, we all must give up some independence to be safe today. However, there were other ways the government and the tech sector could have handled this without secretly violating the privacy of law-abiding citizens.
In the interests of national security, the government basically can get any information it wants through the subpoena process. But it didn’t go that route and the tech firms seemed all too willing to go right along with the program. More bombshells are expected to be dropped and who knows where this will all lead. Amazon (AMZN) is one company that has made the government jump through hoops when it wanted its customers’ data. The company knows the future of its business depends upon customer data security and privacy.
To be fair, many of these tech companies, most specifically Google, are adamantly denying that they “voluntarily” handed over anything to the federal government. This is no surprise as their entire credibility and future business model depends on consumer trust. This is specifically sensitive as organizations move to more of a cloud-based computing environment and more data is being created, transferred and stored this way.
But I am not going to split hairs. And I am not going to give any of them the benefit of the doubt. One thing I’ve learned in this business is that where there is smoke, there is fire. And whether they “voluntarily” turned over all customer data or “allowed” access to their networks is irrelevant. In either case they aided what George Orwell predicted back in the 1940s—Big Brother is here and he is here to stay, and the ramifications on the technology industry and Internet usage are massive. Getting the data is one thing, but does anyone really have any confidence that any of this data won’t be leaked or misused in any way?
Solution providers I’ve spoken with take their customer data security seriously. It’s their lifeline. They know if their customers can’t trust them, it's game over. Many are now answering questions and trying to reassure their customers that their data is secure. But it may be an uphill battle.
As Lowell Bergman said to Mike Wallace in the movie The Insider, “What got broken here doesn’t go back together again.” The industry may be changed forever. The way business and individuals send data will likely change. How the Internet is used will likely change. Shame on all of them!
Knock 'em alive!