Tech Sector vs. Government Surveillance - privacyIf you have been following the news about covert surveillance by the NSA and FBI recently, you might get the impression that companies like Google®, Microsoft™, Apple®, Facebook and Twitter have become sort of champions for the man in the street.  You could see the telling signs as soon as the facts began to emerge: changes in Google Chrome™ browser, SSL encryption across the board on Facebook, vocal posturing in public about privacy from iCupertino, and so on.

Reading the reactions from the tech giants, I cannot but think that their public displays of ‘resistance’ are less about championing for the greater good and more about ‘something else’.

After all, it’s a tough pill to swallow when the same company that speaks out against the government’s monitoring and surveillance activities – intercepting traffic, scanning email and messaging content, etc. – earns much of their bread and butter by intercepting and scanning email and messaging content.

One could argue that Google’s motivation for reading every Gmail™ message is benign; all they want to do is target you with advertising, right?

Facebook captures and analyzes every move you (and your friends) make on the social network; is it not trying to discern behavioral and targeting patterns for largely the same reason?

I’m not so sure.  Searching through my stuff is searching through it, period.  You might have entirely good motives, or perhaps less so, but the fact is that I have to trust you for your motives to be acceptable to me, whatever they happen to be.  If I don’t know or trust you, if I’m not already in for the penny and pound with you protecting me, then I could really care less what your motives are for snooping through my stuff.

Well, nobody trusts the Government, right?  Yet, the big tech companies who are coming to the rescue on our behalf are the same companies whose products and services we use every day, and of course we can trust them.  We have always trusted big corporations and advertising…

Hold on a second.  So, the government, right, wrong or indifferent, tells us they need to monitor all this information in order to protect us, in order to prevent terrorists or other enemies of the American people from plotting against us – but we simply don’t trust that. There must be some other darker, more nefarious plot afoot by Uncle Sam.

They must be up to something when they are poking around in all that personal information, tracking, monitoring and spying.  What if they are collecting personal information on poor old regular American Joes’ like you and me?  How would they use it?

Would they usher in a new McCarthy-esque era of political persecution? No, that’s old hat.  A typical session on Capitol Hill holds enough political in-fighting, dirty pool and persecution – these days you don’t have to be a Communist or an Imperialist to end up on someone’s list, you can accomplish it just by being a politician.

So, what’s the worst they could do with all that information?  Could they target us based on beliefs, desires or behaviors?  Could they identify our friends and relatives and be able to understand where we are, where we’ll be and who else will be there?

In other words, maybe they will do what Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others are already doing. Is it that we gave these companies permission but never said it was okay for the government to do it?

In most cases, we want privacy because we don’t want people using information about us against us, and besides, our business is our business.  We don’t want information about ourselves used in such a way that we end up subjected to other peoples whims.

Targeting us with advertising or targeting our friends and family with offers?

I think it is a bit ironic that the same folks whose stated intent is to capture information about us so they can market to us and make money are the ones shaking defiant fists in the air against the government, a government whose intent centers around protecting America against external threats.  A government who we’d be hard pressed to find any other intent or motive for monitoring our electronic communications.

Ironic; it truly is.