Monday, June 16, 2014

Astra Taylor: Google and Yahoo want to 'reset the net'. But can it work?

Earlier this month non-profit organisations and companies including Google, Mozilla, Yahoo, and Reddit united to organise a day of action called Reset the Net. The event marked the first anniversary of Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Administration's extensive and illegal dragnet surveillance apparatus.
"Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same," Snowden wrote in a statement endorsing the campaign. The NSA is not going to stop snooping, but adopting encryption can make the mass collection of personal data more difficult and expensive. Why not put a little sand in the gears of their massive spying machine?
Reset the Net supporters were absolutely right to highlight both the torpid dysfunction of our political system and the value of encryption tools to individual users. Yet there remains something decidedly ironic about massive multinational corporations, whose profits depend on sucking up our personal information, spearheading a privacy campaign – especially given that some of their spokespeople have been wilfully tone-deaf on the issue in the past. "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt famously declared.
In addition to being a filmmaker and a writer, I'm an activist. While there's ample proof that the government monitors the political causes I am involved with, I find myself increasingly concerned about the social consequences of corporate surveillance. Private sector data collection presents a significant obstacle to democracy that we have yet to reckon with.
For all their righteous posturing, tech corporations did not join the Reset the Net campaign out of magnanimity but because Snowden's whistleblowing negatively impacts their interests. Analysts have predicted that the American cloud computing industry's losses could reach $180bn over the next few years. Facebook and Ciscohave complained directly to Barack Obama that the NSA's activities have hurt sales. Google, Twitter, and Facebook have had their reputations tarnished. For the big corporate players, Reset the Net was as much about image management as shoring up their infrastructure against NSA intrusion.
Companies such as Google and Facebook would prefer to denounce state surveillance practices rather than acknowledge the myriad ways they facilitate such encroachments... read more: