Author Archives: Luke Pelican

American Cloud Firms Suffer From Customers’ PRISM Fears

Fallout from the NSA PRISM revelations continues, and American cloud providers may be one of the groups paying the price. Jaikumar Vijayan writing for ComputerWorld reports on how European customers are reacting:

A Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) survey found that 10% of 207 officials at non-U.S. companies have canceled contracts with U.S. service providers following the revelation of the NSA spy program last month. The alliance, a non-profit organization with over 48,000 individual members, said the survey also found that 56% of non-U.S. respondents are now hesitant to work with any U.S.-based cloud service providers.

In the full survey, more than half of 456 representatives of companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia said they are less likely to use American cloud service providers because of concerns over U.S government access to their data.

Yesterday’s cnet story from Declan McCullagh about the federal government seeking user passwords from tech companies will further exacerbate the situation:

“I’ve certainly seen them ask for passwords,” said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We push back.”

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies “really heavily scrutinize” these requests, the person said. “There’s a lot of ‘over my dead body.'”

The companies’ zeal for protecting user privacy aside, customers are undoubtedly more concerned than ever about the security of the information they entrust to American firms.

In a Politico oped in March, Marvin and I warned of how American surveillance laws could lead to a situation in which American businesses suffer economic harm due to privacy concerns of their users:

Many foreign companies are converging toward a common argument for why they’re better than their American competitors. It’s not that the foreign-made technology is better, more resilient, or more ubiquitous, nor that the foreign companies are more innovative or better managed. They compare not their businessmen but their politicians. They argue simply that American laws undermine any American product — that these laws fail to protect privacy of personal or business information of all users. This argument works partly because consumers claim to “avoid doing business” with companies they don’t trust to protect their privacy.

While this business argument exaggerates the problems with American privacy law, it should still concern policymakers, who unwittingly help less innovative foreign companies compete by providing a germ of truth to foreign privacy concerns.

Sadly new developments continue to confirm these warnings. Our concerns aren’t meant to malign the motives of our intelligence agencies or  diminish their efforts to protect the security of the United States. On the contrary, the need for intelligence collection to safeguard the country from foreign threats is clear and justified. But the revelations of late are having a detrimental effect on American businesses, the full implications of which remain to be seen.  As members of Congress debate whether to impose limitations on the intelligence gathering capabilities of our national security agencies, they should carefully consider the harm befalling American businesses, and weigh that harm in their decision-making process.

Fred Wilson: The Economic Case For Privacy

In June, venture capitalist Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures spoke with WSJ reporter Spencer Ante about mobile technology and other topics at SourceDigital2013.

At around the 3:30  mark, the conversation turns to privacy in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal. Wilson says:

I would hope that the people who worry about business interests in our government are fighting with the people who are worried about national security interests and having a debate about this specific issue, because if Western Europeans stop using Dropbox because they’re afraid the US government is able to see everything they put in their Dropbox, they may start using a service that’s based in Iceland or Sweden or Germany or France or something like that. That’s going to be really bad for Dropbox. It wouldn’t surprise me that some of that will happen. How much of it is a bigger question, right? So many people are upset about this at some level, but the question is whether people will change their behavior.

Back in March, Marvin and I made a similar case in Politico, arguing that privacy is not only a civil liberties issue but also an economic issue. We also warned that policymakers are helping foreign competitors win customers from American companies:

Other nations exaggerate the flaws in our privacy laws to edge out American tech companies for both enterprise and personal users. Our lawmakers are doing them a favor by casting a black cloud of legal uncertainty over our own industry and refusing to fix the most obvious problems. Now is the time to act.

An article on Politico this morning suggests that the NSA scandal may be waking up Congress to this issue, possibly to a strong enough degree for action. If policymakers want to ensure American tech companies remain competitive, they’ll need to swiftly pass legislation to protect privacy.

Code.org Continues To Inspire

Last week, I received an update from Code.org, the group behind this well-known video, encouraging kids to learn to code:


According to Hadi Partovi, Code.org’s founder, the organization has done a lot of good in the four months since its launch:

Thanks to your sharing & tweeting, 3.5 million kids tried learning to code online, 12,000 schools asked our help to teach computer science, and 25,000 software engineers volunteered too!  We’ve connected thousands of schools with opportunities and helped set up hundreds of classes.

In a piece in The Atlantic from last year, Marvin described why it is so important for younger generations to learn this skill:

Thinking like a programmer is not only helpful to succeed in any technical career, it will also become integral to simply navigating our increasingly digital world. Code consists of languages that can be taught just as we already teach the “language” of math, the language of music, and the language of Spanish vocabulary and grammar. Students could decide whether or not they want to pursue greater fluency and expertise in coding (or Spanish), and (if nothing else) students would benefit from the distinct problem-solving framework of a coding mentality — which may be a more entrepreneurial mentality than memorizing the dates of famous battles in the Thirty Years War. It would help students to think critically — to analyze and solve problems.

Marvin argues that teaching programming in and out of the classroom can pay dividends far down the road, and ensure that America remains competitive in the global economy. Code.org is one of the organizations leading the way, and over 718,000 people have signed its petition, arguing that “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code.”

No doubt that number will continue to grow, as will the number of students who take a crack at developing this valuable skill set. Check out the site if you want to learn more.

Ammori and Meinrath Publish in Emory Int’l Law Review

Marvin and Sascha Meinrath, Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, published an article for the Emory International Law Review’s Symposium on “International Law and the Internet: Adapting Legal Framework In Response To Online Warfare and Revolutions Fueled By Social Media.” Their piece examines the recent conflicts over Internet freedom and how new technologies can foster a more open society, if we allow them to do so.

From the piece:

Which brings us to another conundrum in the battle between the Internet Freedom Fighters and the Cold Warriors—how do we empower free society while creating technological mechanisms to police malfeasance? The same “good” surveillance technologies are used regularly for such evil purposes, yet have been so impotent in actually stopping piracy in the first place.

Like any powerful tool, technology offers both tremendous boons for adept users and dramatic new pitfalls for an unsuspecting public. But the battles over SOPA and PIPA give us hope.

You can read their article here.

How Local Communities Can Become More “Fiber-Friendly”

Yesterday, the Fiber To The Home Council (FTTH Council) issued a report describing how communities can take steps to make fiber-to-the-home for their residents a reality. While most of today’s broadband providers house fiber connections in only parts of their networks, fiber-to-the-home providers bring those rapid connection speeds all the way to your front door.

The report’s recommendations include easing regulatory burdens on fiber providers and speeding up permit reviews and other bureaucratic processes, making existing infrastructure that can be used for fiber deployment (like utility poles and public rights-of-way) available to providers on fair terms, and ensuring that community-wide infrastructure is adequately maintained for use by providers. The report emphasizes that while deployment of fiber-to-the-home is a costly undertaking, these steps can give communities hoping for that deployment an edge in attracting providers to their areas.

You can read the full report here.

Latest News: This Week in Law and Techdirt Post

On Friday, Marvin was a guest on This Week in Law, a weekly webcast focused on the latest technology-related legal news. Among the topics discussed was the legal trouble facing transportation apps like Uber, SideCar and Lyft, a topic Marvin covered in this piece on Slate. You can watch the full show below:

Over the weekend, Marvin had a guest post on Techdirt, discussing his favorite posts of the week. Check it out here.

Defining Innovation at SXSW

While attending SXSW, Marvin dropped by the Fast Company Grill. Some of the attendees were asked for six-second definitions of innovation. There are some great offerings from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Microsoft’s danah boyd, SoundCloud’s Ben Fawkes, and Girls In Tech’s President Kate Brodock.

Check out Marvin’s video below: