Angry over U.S. surveillance, tech giants bolster defenses

The New York Times reports: Google has spent months and millions of dollars encrypting email, search queries and other information flowing among its data centers worldwide. Facebook’s chief executive said at a conference this fall that the government “blew it.” And though it has not been announced publicly, Twitter plans to set up new types of encryption to protect messages from snoops.

It is all reaction to reports of how far the government has gone in spying on Internet users, sneaking around tech companies to tap into their systems without their knowledge or cooperation.

What began as a public relations predicament for America’s technology companies has evolved into a moral and business crisis that threatens the foundation of their businesses, which rests on consumers and companies trusting them with their digital lives.

So they are pushing back in various ways — from cosmetic tactics like publishing the numbers of government requests they receive to political ones including tense conversations with officials behind closed doors. And companies are building technical fortresses intended to make the private information in which they trade inaccessible to the government and other suspected spies.

Yet even as they take measures against government collection of personal information, their business models rely on collecting that same data, largely to sell personalized ads. So no matter the steps they take, as long as they remain ad companies, they will be gathering a trove of information that will prove tempting to law enforcement and spies. [Continue reading…]

Dan Gillmor writes: It is dawning, at long last, on the major American technology companies that they are under attack – from their own government, not just from foreign powers and criminals. They’d already been co-opted by spies and law enforcement, forced to obey secret orders targeting their customers and users. Or, in some cases, they’d willingly collaborated with the government’s mass surveillance schemes.

Now they are realizing that their own government considers them outright adversaries. They understand, especially in the wake of the Washington Post’s report about western spy services hacking into the intra-corporate networks of internet giants Google and Yahoo, that no amount of cooperation will ever satisfy the people who wage a relentless campaign to spy on anything and everything that moves. (The NSA, of course, has issued a denial of sorts, but it’s more of a non-denial denial of the Washington Post report).

For the users of cloud services and computing/communications technologies, the evidence mounts that we have to be skeptical (I would go as far as to say highly skeptical) of what the tech companies are telling us. We can appreciate their avowed good intentions, but they have created an architecture that obliges us to believe they may be selling us out at just about every opportunity, even if they are not. [Continue reading…]

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