Tech giants push surveillance reform: What wasn't said

Tech giants push surveillance reform: What wasn't said

Summary: If Microsoft, Google, Facebook and other tech leaders want the NSA's surveillance practices reformed they need to start talking about the potential financial hit a lot more.


Technology giants such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook have pushed for the U.S. government to reform its reform its surveillance policies around five broad principles.

Special Feature

IT Security in the Snowden Era

IT Security in the Snowden Era

The Edward Snowden revelations have rocked governments, global businesses, and the technology world. When we look back a decade from now, we expect this to be the biggest story of 2013. Here is our perspective on the still-unfolding implications along with IT security and risk management best practices.

These principles---limiting government authority to collect user information, better oversight, transparency about government demands, respecting the free flow of information and creating a framework that minimizes government conflict---sound good on the surface. The problem is that these principles aren't likely to get too far.

Also: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook call for NSA muzzle

Oddly enough, the argument that might have worked best for the tech companies was this: Your surveillance practices are going to cost us sales, dominance and perhaps jobs. Legislators aren't going to get frameworks, respect and transparency of data requests, but will understand economics and money.

Now it's too early to say that the NSA flap and revelations that the U.S. government can and has snoop on anything online it wants has hurt tech sales, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots.

On Cisco's recent first quarter earnings conference call, CEO John Chambers said there has been an impact in China due to U.S. Internet surveillance. Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco, said:

This issue has caused increasingly customers to pause and another issue for them to evaluate, in all of those complexities that you've already discussed. So it's not having material impact but it's certainly causing people to stop and then rethink decisions and that is I think reflected in our results.

Indeed, trust matters for cloud computing, an area where the U.S. leads. The NSA flap has hurt trust and therefore potential sales.

Microsoft's chief counsel Brad Smith said:

smith tweet


Smith dances around the issue, but if people don't use technology they don't trust there's an economic impact.

Rest assured, the broad principles outlined by tech giants make for good news and analysis fodder. Behind closed doors with legislators and lobbyists, economics will be mentioned a lot.

nsa principles


Topics: Government, Cloud, Security, Tech Industry

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Commercial Business Model

    the Commercial Business Model appears to be based on collecting and selling marketing info; government surveillance and hacking appear to be piggy-backed onto that. so when the commercial stake holders talk about improving security i just like to remember: whenever one door closes another one will open. they will have to actually secure their software before they can get us to believe them. my bet: it ain't gonna happen.

    don't forget your msft "maintenance" -- Tuesday after 3.
    • It won't happen because

      at the end of the day customers don't really want to pay for it, and companies don't want to risk getting into trouble with the feds. At most lip service will be done and some meaningless marketing BS will be put in place, but other than that nothing will happen.

      Then there is the fact that some of these companies are willing participants and are likely profiting from their cooperation. Microsoft certainly appears to be one such a company, especially after their inclusion of a 3D camera and persistent network access in every Xbox One they sell.
  • Translation =

    The NSA Snowden leaks have increased user awareness and interest in how and the level to which these companies are tracking people, which isn't good for business.

    These companies long for the good old days where consumers couldn't care less what they did with the data that was so freely provided to them. The act of governments tapping into their data treasure troves is threatening to bring an end to those glory days, so of course these companies aren't happy.
  • Protect Yourself

    People need to understand that there is little privacy and security on the internet. Period. But, there are solutions for both email and internet browsing security. When the servers are located in the US or Canada they are subject to the US Patriot Act. That means that when the government (NSA, IRS, etc.) requests information on us those companies MUST comply - and all without a search warrant. This is against the US Constitution's 4th Amendment. Check out for established Swiss-based companies that ARE NOT under US jurisdiction! Let's take back our Fourth Amendment rights!!
  • Cloud can't be trusted

    The only data I'll store in any Cloud service, especially one hosted in the US, is data that I don't care who knows it; i.e. my public-facing websites.

    Everything else will continue to exist behind the corporate firewall and on my encrypted backups.

    As far as I'm concerned, the NSA has single-handedly killed the Cloud industry. Maybe the industry can recover, if it can provide enough assurance that private data remains private.
  • Spies, spies evertwhere, not a clue to grasp

    I am entirely cynical. Period. The situation does affect my comfort level. Perhaps the only way to stymie the spys is for all citizens to pepper their data with the keywords the Gov uses. Then everybody becomes a potential suspect meaning that there is no suspect.
  • They know that consumers and business customers will not STOP buying

    because the spying applies to ALL providers. Unless a customer in the US (a wealthy one) has its own licensed satellite dish to connect to a foreign satellite provider and thence to a foreign internet provider, the links to that foreign internet provider WILL go through lines that can be spied upon. If all competitors have to be boycotted, none will be boycotted.