In September Apple made public "A message from Tim Cook about Apple's commitment to your privacy." In another area of Apple's website about privacy, Apple walks each visitor through their products with each one having a word about privacy specifically tailored for it. Apple makes it clear that "The moment you begin using an Apple product or service, strong privacy measures are already at work protecting your information. We build extensive safeguards into our apps and the operating systems they run on." Even in yesterday's Apple Financial Results Conference call Cook emphasized "ground breaking security." Cook firmly stated that "We've also communicated and demonstrated our commitment to respecting and protecting user's privacy with strong encryption and strict policies that govern how our data is handled." Today iCloud users in China are reportedly under attack as hackers are seeking personal data. A TED Talk presentation surfaced recently titled "Why Privacy Matters." Some tech companies like Google and Facebook would like you to think privacy doesn't matter anymore, but privacy does matter. For those who passionately believe in online privacy then our report on Glenn Greenwald's presentation is worth checking out.
Why privacy matters, is a question that has arisen in the context of a global debate, enabled by the revelations of Edward Snowden that the United States and its partners, unbeknownst to the entire world, "has converted the Internet, once heralded as an unprecedented tool of liberation and democratization, into an unprecedented zone of mass, indiscriminate surveillance.
The Snowden revelations have caused most of America's high tech companies a lot of grief, including Apple. Here are just a few of the reports that we've covered on the matter since July:
In Greenwald's TED presentation he reminds us what Google's Eric Schmidt and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg have flippantly said about privacy because it's good for their business if users just give up that right.
According to Greenwald, the very people that are saying that privacy doesn't matter publicly in their statements that are good for business actually care about it privately. "The people who are actually saying that are engaged in a very extreme act of self-deprecation. What they're really saying is, "I have agreed to make myself such a harmless and unthreatening and uninteresting person that I actually don't fear having the government know what it is that I'm doing.
This mindset has found what I think is its purest expression in a 2009 interview with the long-time CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who, when asked about all the different ways his company is causing invasions of privacy for hundreds of millions of people around the world, said this: He said, 'If you're doing something that you don't want other people to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.'
Now, there's all kinds of things to say about that mentality, the first of which is that the people who say that, who say that privacy isn't really important, they don't actually believe it, and the way you know that they don't actually believe it is that while they say with their words that privacy doesn't matter, with their actions, they take all kinds of steps to safeguard their privacy.
They put passwords on their email and their social media accounts, they put locks on their bedroom and bathroom doors, all steps designed to prevent other people from entering what they consider their private realm and knowing what it is that they don't want other people to know. The very same Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, ordered his employees at Google to cease speaking with the online Internet magazine CNET after CNET published an article full of personal, private information about Eric Schmidt, which it obtained exclusively through Google searches and using other Google products." (to Laughter)
Greenwald further notes that "This same division can be seen with the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who in an infamous interview in 2010 pronounced that privacy is no longer a "social norm." Last year, Mark Zuckerberg and his new wife purchased not only their own house but also all four adjacent houses in Palo Alto for a total of 30 million dollars in order to ensure that they enjoyed a zone of privacy that prevented other people from monitoring what they do in their personal lives."
Whether you agree with Greenwald or not, his presentation reminds us that Big Brother has to be kept in check if democracy is to remain vibrant. When you have the time, sit back with a coffee and enjoy the presentation on why privacy matters. I think that you'll enjoy it.
If you have a strong opinion on this after watching the TED presentation, pro or con, send in your comments below.