Saturday, September 7, 2013

Trust is an Easy Word. Fighting the Government Shows Integrity

In todays networked world, we hear the word 'trust' a lot.  Companies like Google, AT&T, Apple, and others constantly talk about how their customers trust them and how we should trust them with the most intimate details of our lives: our contact lists, our emails, our medical records, everything. "Store it in the cloud!", they proclaim, "We can be trusted to protect your data".

But that really hasn't proven to be the case, has it?  Recent revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden have shown that these companies don't deserve our trust.  Many of the large companies who hold our most secret information have proven that they are willing to betray us as long as they are, in turn, protected from our ire.

These companies all sing a familiar song: "it's the government", they say, "We're being forced to turn over your data to them. It's not our fault!"  In many, if not most cases, this is technically true. But it's not the whole story.

When the government comes knocking on a corporations door, the leaders of that business are immediately faced with a choice: do they roll over and hand the government data their users have entrusted to them or do they fight?  We know that, in the majority of cases, these companies have simply chosen to give in and hand over the goods.

And why shouldn't they?  After all, they are protected from us  by the government! It's highly unlikely that they will ever be caught betraying their users and, even if they are, they have special arrangements with the government where they largely can't be sued. It's a sweet deal that allows the company to take the easy way out of a tough moral decision. It lets them out of the legal aspect of it, but it doesn't release them from the immorality of what they're doing.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that there are times when those companies that choose to fight will lose and have to hand over their users data. But at least they've shown that they've tried to protect you. It's easy to claim patriotism or coercion and roll over. It's another thing to stand up, dig your heels in, fight, and lose.  One is the cowardly way out. One shows integrity.

So the next time you hear a company talk about trust, ask yourself (and them) this: are they willing to stand up and fight for your rights when your data is demanded from them by a large and powerful adversary like the government?  If they aren't, then they don't deserve your trust or your business. Words are cheap. It's easy to throw around words like 'trust' and 'integrity'. It's a whole other story to actually be a company people can trust.

So far, I'm not seeing a lot of reasons to trust anyone in today's tech world. And that is perhaps the saddest part of this whole NSA scandal: learning how deeply we've been betrayed.

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