Tech Titans Flex Anti-Surveillance Muscle With… a Website?

SurvReform Tech Titans Flex Anti Surveillance Muscle With... a Website?

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Big Tech’s anti-snooping website.

The tech sector’s biggest names – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others – have taken a hit this year for their complicity with government surveillance programs. With each new creepy disclosure on the depth and scope of the spying, the tech firms have found more courage to fight back  for the freedom of the Internet and the privacy rights of their users. Hence this week we have their boldest move to date…um, a new website?

Well, a feckless-looking Silicon Valley had to do something. Eight firms with a combined value of $1.4 trillion have signed on to an effort to reform “global” government surveillance – though clearly the main bogey is the US. Taking the time-honored but largely symbolic tack of an “open letter to Washington,” the tech firms cite the “urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide” and implore the US to take the lead. “For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure,” they add. Not to mention their business models.

What’s missing? How about telecom companies, network equipment makers, financial interests like credit card companies? Again, it’s a start. As a skeptic notes, the effort is driven more by economic than good-government interest, as the firms continue to face backlash for cooperating with the surveillance effort in the first place.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the tech sector backers of surveillance reform.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Give your cause higher purpose. You’ll win more friends, allies and better headlines. The Tech sector backers of the surveillance reform effort have a clear economic interest in protecting their users from prying government eyes. But “Don’t spy on our users – we might lose money” is hardly a rallying cry. Silicon Valley is imbued with a libertarian spirit that abhors government intrusion, if not always for the noblest reasons. Whether the website is just a PR move, or a lead-in to real political action backed by the sector’s considerable economic might, will be monitored closely. And not just by government snoops.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Trustwave Spider Labs, for being credited with identifying a massive hacking operation of over two million social media account usernames and passwords stolen from Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and other sites. Trustwave researchers found this latest cache after a massive attack on Adobe that left an astounding 38 million accounts vulnerable. “We don’t have evidence [the hackers] logged into these accounts, but they probably did,” said John Miller, a security research manager at Trustwave. The compromised companies notified users after Trustwave tipped them off. Kudos to the PR flaks who alerted the media that it was Trustwave, not the individual sites, that found evidence of the breaches.

googlevil The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Google, following disclosure that it funded political lobbying groups that helped force the recent US government shutdown. The “Don’t Be Evil” doers have, in fact, supported a number of right-wing organizations and are fairly transparent about it. Their contributions to Heritage Action, which actively pushed for the government shutdown, came to light in a report last week by a liberal non-profit. Google, like other big tech firms, has a strong libertartian, anti-tax streak and an active cash-backed lobbying effort in Washington that, like most, gets spread around to all sides. But it’s one thing to back both sides in a legitimate policy debate, and another entirely to fund what amounts to domestic political terrorism.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for the most recent plot twist in the bizarre political theater playing out in Canada’s largest city. Ford’s latest disavowal is that he did not offer $5000 and a car to alleged drug dealers in exchange for a video of him smoking crack cocaine. “Number one, that’s an outright lie and number two, you can talk to my lawyers about it,” Ford said on a Washington DC-based radio program, to which he was invited to discuss football. This, of course, follows his denial-then-admission of smoking crack in the first place, and his denial that he orally pleasured a female staffer (“I’ve got more than enough to eat at home,” was his comment).  At this point, even football isn’t a safe topic for Rob Ford to speak about.