Wired UK reports that Facebook has created a “Connectivity Lab” dedicated to bringing the internet to remote areas via a network of “flying drones, satellites, and infrared lasers capable of beaming internet connections to people down here on earth.” As Wired notes, the news comes within days of Facebook’s acquisition of gaming headset manufacturer Oculus, which Facebook plans to use to develop virtual reality enhancements for its social network.
A recurring theme on News Sandwich is the celebration of innovation, particularly in an economy struggling to survive after the lashings it has received from the last few presidents. But I find Facebook’s investments especially heartening because they are explicitly aimed at the long term: “[W]hile discussing the Oculus buy, Zuckerberg painted both projects as platforms that represent not the near future of Facebook, but the distant future.”
Innovative tech industry leaders are even more important today, because we are depending on them to figure out ways to protect our privacy until we can either elect the right politicians and win the right court cases needed to achieve major changes in the law.
Remember when Obama promised to end the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program “as we know it”? Well, as I suspected, so far it’s just a bunch of hot air. If you dig down into this New York Times story, entitled “Obama to Call for End to N.S.A.’s Bulk Data Collection,” you will learn, first, that “the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle”—i.e., at least another three months of the program as it is. Then, the plan is apparently to do exactly what Obama previously admitted was not a real solution: require the phone companies to retain the metadata. The only difference, apparently, is that the data will be retained for only 18 months, whereas the NSA is currently collecting and retaining data for five years.
Hmmm, 18 months. Just enough time for Obama to finish up his term, leave office, and even help the next democrat get elected.
Conspiracy theories aside, it is wrong for the government to force companies to retain this data even if, as the New York Times reports, “federal regulations already generally require [it].” Moreover, even assuming (as I do) that phone companies have a legitimate business reason to retain some metadata for some period of time, it is wrong for government to be able to obtain that data without probable cause and particularized suspicion.
What was perhaps most disappointing to me about Obama’s announcement of, essentially, nothing, was the news that Edward Snowden hailed Obama’s proposals as a “turning point.” Am I missing something? I just don’t see that requiring phone companies to do the government’s dirty work makes a bit of difference. Is Snowden trying to negotiate a plea bargain with Obama?
With Obama seemingly determined to keep his toys, and Snowden dropping the ball, I turn to the tech industry innovators and leaders to develop ways to protect our privacy in the current legal context. And I am hopeful that Mark Zuckerberg will do his part. In a recent post on Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote:
The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.
I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.
So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.
Whatever complaints I have about Facebook—the ads, the default settings or notifications I don’t always like, the confusing changes in news feed and profile layouts—I commend Mark Zuckerberg for continuing to innovate for the long term, and for committing to protect our privacy, despite governments that seem intent on violating it.