Tech Companies and the Fight for Privacy
- Eric Huebner
- On June 19, 2013
It has not been the government’s week. After private contractor Edward Snowden leaked a series of highly classified documents to The Guardian newspaper, the federal government has been besieged on all sides by accusations of spying on its citizens in what detractors are painting as an increasingly Orwellian conspiracy and supporters insist is a routine counterterrorism policy.
The National Security Administration’s counterterrorism policy of mining the metadata of Verizon users and its PRISM program, through which analysts could look at the emails of foreign nationals that represented potential terrorist threats, hasn’t only upset pundits and citizens, but tech companies as well.
Firefox creator and online giant Mozilla has been at the forefront of this debate, loudly voicing their disapproval over these policies. One of the founding parties of the Stop Watching Us coalition, Mozilla has begun to contact lawmakers and has called for a congressional investigation into the NSA’s surveillance policies.
Other members of this coalition include Reddit and the American Civil Liberties Union. The coalition is also looking to call lawmakers, echoing the strategies of many advocacy groups during last year’s furor over the Stop Online Piracy Act.
These surveillance programs have made waves in the marketing community as well. In recent years, many companies have used cookies and user tracking systems in order to better target consumers with appropriate advertising that reflects their tastes and preferences. There is a growing concern that this vast cache of user data, which is already available to a select group of commercial parties, may soon see widespread availability. Even more problematic is the potential that this type of database could give federal agencies an even more intimate look into the daily lives of many consumers.
Google and Facebook have also stepped forward and demanded that the government increase its transparency with regard to how it is using their data. Unlike Mozilla, which appears to be protesting this turn of events due to its business convictions, Google and Facebook are locked in a race to save their appearances after reports emerged that they allegedly provided user data to the government agency freely and without question. While it should be noted that the accuracy of such a statement is, as of yet, undetermined, it’s important to note that the reputations of these companies have been called into serious question for many users. For enormous corporations that are based upon the online exchange of data, this could spell disaster.
It is certain that these events may give many pause when it comes time to input personal or financial data online and many of the tech companies said to be complicit will need to follow the path of Mozilla, Google and Facebook and actively speak out in favor of their users, lest they lose the trust of the users that they have based their business models on.
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