Can Snowden revert privacy to a social norm?
Byron Acohido, USA TODAY 7:50 p.m. EDT October 30, 2013
SEATTLE – The steady trickle of revelations of government snooping that continues to seep from the Edward Snowden documents is serving to keep attention riveted on how privacy in the digital age ought to be defined.
That' most probably not to the liking of Google and Facebook. In January 2010, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared that the expectation of privacy was no longer a social norm, and, in October 2010, then Google chairman Eric Schmidt said "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."
By rationing out details of the NSA's bag of tricks on a regular basis, the Guardian and the Washington Post have orchestrated sustained attention on the true cost of using free services from Google and Facebook , whose business models revolve around unfettered access to your online persona.
So far the NSA and White House have taken much of the heat for the varied methodologies we now know, thanks to Snowden, that the NSA uses to tap into the trove of data compiled and packaged by search engines, social websites ad popular apps.
"This totally violates the privacy of US citizens," says Craig Kensek, senior manager at anti-malware supplier Ahnlab. "The NSA is coming across as a rogue operation, splitting technical fine hair, since data could literally reside anywhere in the world, thanks to cloud technology."
It's unlikely Congress will do much to restrict the NSA's ability to deter terrorists.. So the enduring effect of shedding steady light on Snowden's stolen documents may be exactly opposite of what Facebook and Google want.
The slow process of raising awareness about the desirability of privacy as a social norm appears to be gaining traction.
"The on-going persistence of the Snowden story with its continuing revelations appears to be reaching people's consciousness," says C. J. Radford, Vice President of Cloud at data security firm Vormetric. "At the same time, I don't believe that most U.S. consumers have connected the dots.
"The large amount of private information about them exists because it was collected for other purposes, such as advertising, billing, service delivery, etc.," Radford points out. "But they are learning, and the level of awareness is rising."
It's not just consumers who ought to question the level of privacy associated with use of the Web's most popular services, as we've come to know them. Companies are embracing BYOD – the trend of having employees use personal mobile devices for work duties – and are also increasingly relying on services delivered over the Internet cloud.
Pierluigi Stella, chief technical officer at Network Box USA, points to heightened privacy concerns raised for commercial users of Google's popular Web-delivered productivity suite, and would-be Office killer, Google Docs.
"Now we know that whatever they write is being collected and analyzed by the NSA before it is stored in the Google cloud. Do I really want my business emails to go through that? Do I trust that no illegitimate use will come of it?," Stella observes. "Personally, I prefer the good old e-mail server I control, because it is unlikely the NSA will come snooping simply because there is nothing of interest for them."