The tech industry can’t be trusted on privacy. That’s the message we’re getting these days – the one we see in headlines about Google Glass and Prism, and in ad campaigns like Microsoft’s “Scroogled.”
We experience it firsthand when targeted advertisements pop up in our news feed or our search results, and when our photos become the stuff of web commercials. Browser cookies, webmail monitoring, and other intrusive practices may be perfectly defensible, but they don’t poll well, and never have.
Technology companies haven’t helped themselves by adopting blasé attitudes on the subject. Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, said in 1999 that, “you have zero privacy, get over it.”
Ten years later, Google’s Eric Schmidt opined that, “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
This lack of concern often leads to embarrassment. In the last few years, both Google and Facebook have caused rows by making changes in their privacy policies and not bothering to explain them to users.
If revelations about Prism have given the industry a black eye, it’s because tech firms were in Washington campaigning on immigration reform, net neutrality, and cybersecurity, when they should have been agitating for customer privacy. As a recent Pew survey found, Americans are worried about Facebook, not the NSA.