PR Posturing: Why Facebook and Google's Campaign Rings Hollow

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By David Gilbert | December 9, 2013 8:49 PM EST

Technology editor David Gilbert argues that the latest call from the big tech companies is nothing but a PR stunt to fool customers.

Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and Twitter. With the notable exception of Amazon, these eight companies comprise the vast majority of what most people think of as the internet.

They are the companies to which you reveal your innermost secrets; your most valuable personal information.

These are also the companies who are now calling on the world's governments to "to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information."

The companies even have a sparkling new website to match their new 'campaign' called "Reform Government Surveillance."

Big bad governments

The formation of the new group and their open letter to governments around the world has obviously been widely covered in every major news outlet. Most of the coverage has been of the fawning variety, biased towards the "poor little tech companies" who are bullied by the "big bad governments."

But what I see is not so much a flag bearer for the rights of the ordinary internet citizen, but a public relations campaign intended to reassure users that these companies are the good guys and the governments are the bad guys.

The reality is much simpler than that - everyone wants your data and will do pretty much anything to get it. You are not the customer - you are the product

You are the product

Governments use the cloak of secrecy and national security to use any means necessary to get what it wants. The NSA and GCHQ are harvesting much more data about all of us than they will ever need. That is their biggest problem, rather than improving how they connect the dots in the wake of 9/11, they have simply created more dots.

Whatever your thoughts on government surveillance - and reactions range from apathy to the paranoia - what to me seems the most insidious thing to come out of all this is that technology companies are trying to paint themselves as whiter than white when it comes to collection of user data.

Information is what makes the internet work - the more personal and specific that data, the better.

Because we don't call what Google and Facebook do 'surveillance', it makes it seem more acceptable. But be under no illusion, Google and Facebook monitor your life and the more you use them, the more they know about you.

There is a reason why the US and UK governments look to these companies when it wants to find out something about a target - or a huge group of potential targets.

People give informaiton to these services freely and willing. Yes it is under the assumption that these companies will protect it and keep it safe, but that assumption is only in place because the companies themselves project this sense of security.

Hypocrisy of the highest order

But in truth, these companies take your informaiton, process it, and sell it to the highest bidder. How else do you think that ad for a hotel in the place you have just booked a holiday appeared next to your confirmation email from the airline? How else do ads for tickets to your favourite football team appear in your Facebook timeline?

This is why the call for greater transparency of government surveillance from this set of companies strikes me as hypocrisy of the highest order.

What we need is for these companies to educate their users about how the internet really works.

This is not some benevolent portal where everything is free and no one pays for anything.

Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo all need to fess up and tell the people using their products that they are not the customer, they are the product.

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