Tech companies are taking greater steps to protect consumer data and fight the NSA. In the end, consumer confidence and technological innovation are at stake.
Thursday, June 5th, marked the anniversary of former intelligence agent Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA and how it gathers intelligence on American citizens. Snowden has been on the run ever since, making his presence known across Europe (even with his disguise attempts).
Once Snowden leaked the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has used Internet loopholes to gather information about its citizens, he may not know it, but he started a revolution. Consumers have become more cautious about how their data is being used and protected, and tech companies have become more suspicious of the government than ever. It was said, prior to the Snowden leak, that American wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon were in the federal government’s “back pocket.” Now, according to recent reports, AT&T and Verizon are making it more difficult to gain access to user data without a warrant.
Microsoft, once accused of snooping through the user data of one of its employees and handing over information to the NSA through its OneDrive cloud storage, has now gone on record as saying that it will no longer go through the personal data of its users without sufficient evidence of suspicion. Google, considered by many to have said that users can’t expect privacy if they’re on the World Wide Web, has become a privacy advocate for its customers. Google’s latest decision regarding user privacy is to lay fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans. This will make it harder for the NSA to intercept user data than ever before. Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook are also working harder to protect user data.
As for Google, the company is committed to user data and doesn’t mind fighting against the NSA. “I am willing to help on the purely defensive side of things, but signals intercept is totally off the table. No hard feelings, but my job is to make their job hard,” said Google security chief Eric Grosse. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith has been outspoken for Microsoft against the NSA’s actions, noting that the NSA isn’t only harming the American confidence in its government, but also technological innovation: “People won’t use technology they don’t trust. We need to strike a better balance between privacy and national security to restore trust and uphold our fundamental liberties.”
The battle has come down to 1) consumer privacy and 2) government intelligence-gathering. There’s good and bad to both sides: a stronger data encryption and security against NSA snooping would protect the interests of citizens, but some American congressional representatives believe that the federal government can’t protect user data if it doesn’t have access to that same data. No matter what side you find yourself on, tech companies are more committed to their customers. We wouldn’t expect different; without confidence in tech companies, consumers won’t spend, and if consumers don’t spend, then tech companies decline and eventually go out of business. If the federal government truly believed that America was a democracy and understood that democracies work by the citizen public’s elections of federal officials, it too would be committed to user privacy.