In an open letter to President Obama, the titans the tech industry called for regulations and improvements to the way the US government has handled public surveillance.
Eight leading tech companies issued the letter on Monday — Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Yahoo (YHOO), Apple (AAPL), LinkedIn (LNKD), Microsoft (MSFT), and AOL (AOL).
The companies issued a plan that is aimed for a global audience, but urges the US in particular to limit online spying and present a way forward as a global leader in dealing with government surveillance.
“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution,” the letter reads. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”
The tech company CEOs and senior leaders pointed out that they would seriously push reform.
“Reports about government surveillance have shown there is a real need for greater disclosure and new limits on how governments collect information,” said Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. “The U.S. government should take this opportunity to lead this reform effort and make things right.”
From the New York Times:
It is the broadest and strongest effort by the companies, often archrivals, to speak with one voice to pressure the government. The tech industry, whose billionaire founders and executives are highly sought as political donors, forms a powerful interest group that is increasingly flexing its muscle in Washington.
…The political push by the technology companies opens a third front in their battle against government surveillance, which has escalated with recent revelations about government spying without the companies’ knowledge. The companies have also been making technical changes to try to thwart spying and have been waging a public-relations campaign to convince users that they are protecting their privacy.
The letter and online campaign isn’t just a move to help online spying — it’s part of a broader PR push that hopes to correct public trust in these same companies.
After revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed that many of the companies provided the US government with user data, privacy advocates and users themselves were shocked at so much of their personal info was subject to government surveillance.
As the Times notes, in effect, the companies “are trying to blunt the spying revelations’ effects on their businesses. Each disclosure risks alienating users, and foreign governments are considering laws that would discourage their citizens from using services from American Internet companies. The cloud computing industry could lose $180 billion, or a quarter of its revenue, by 2016, according to Forrester Research.”
GOOG stock, FB stock, MSFT stock and more could be dealt a huge blow if users move away from some of their services should they feel their privacy is at risk.
“Governments should limit surveillance to specific known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications,” the companies wrote.