. Facebook. Microsoft
they are the brands that want the world to trust them with personal
information, emails, photos, documents – yet they are now facing a
battle to maintain that trust after disclosures that the US government
was given access to their customers' data online via the Prism
programme operated by the NSA
The companies involved – Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk,
AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple – vigorously deny giving the Obama
administration backdoor access to users' internet
information, but the potential damage to their brand reputation has left the companies floundering for a way to respond.
Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, professor of internet governance and
regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, believes there could be
serious consequences for the collective reputations of all internet
companies who have meticulously built their trade on trust.
He cites Amazon – not one of the companies involved in Prism – as a
case in point when the company took the side of consumers after
publishers protested about bad reviews. "It may have dissuaded someone
to buy a book, but it instilled trust in Amazon which was far more
important to it long-term," said Mayer-Schonberger. "If you violate that
trust, it is difficult to re-establish. Even if it turned out to be a
hoax, trust has been destroyed because everyone is talking about it."
He added: "These companies depend on their users being sufficiently
trusting to give them personal data. Many of us are perfectly fine for
these companies to use this information for their own commercial
benefit, to place more relevant adverts on the right hand side, but we
do not want it passed on to the government or to tax authorities for
Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at Centre for Democracy and Technology in
New York said that for Google – a company which has Don't be Evil as an
informal company slogan and has pioneered online openess, "more
transparency would be helpful". He said: "An important step would be for
these companies to exert even more pressure; pressure on the
intelligence authorities to disclose more information about intelligence
related surveillance that they are compelled to conduct."
In his statement following the Prism revelations,
Google CEO Larry Page indicated this was the tack his company would be
taking to protect its brand reputation. "The level of secrecy around the
current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish," he
Civil liberty activists have also been alarmed. In the UK, the US
surveillance, even of high level data, has raised questions about
breaches of domestic data protection laws.
After they took your money, now they know nothing