The Application Developers Alliance, which counts Google and AT&T as members according to its website, has condemned recent NSA revelations concerning data collection efforts by the government from apps, saying that the news “damages” its industry, and “undermines the hard work of app developer entrepreneurs everywhere.”
Yesterday, newly reveled efforts by the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, to collect user information from certain mobile applications relit the discussion concerning privacy, data integrity, and the limits of government surveillance. The documents behind the leak, provided by Edward Snowden, allow the government to, in the words of The Guardian, “piggyback [on] commercial data collection for their own purposes.”
This isn’t great news for developers, naturally, because government intrusion into data provided to applications by users likely undermines users’ interest in sharing their information with apps in general. If you think the NSA might hoover up whatever you share, you’ll likely share less.
And, apps can better target ads — read: make more money — if they know more about you. So, the less you trust the integrity of your information, the less money developers can make from you, in a sense. This means that the NSA’s efforts could introduce drag into a market sector that is quickly growing. If so, it would be another example of the NSA’s activities being real in the sense that their damage is no longer theoretical (the much worried chilling of the press) or philosophical (self censorship and the like), but actual, and now.
Here’s the Application Developers Alliance’s full statement on the situation:
Uninhibited collection of consumers’ personal data by governments hacking into apps is unacceptable. Developers are surprised and disappointed to learn that personal information entrusted to them by users has been secretly collected and stored. This surveillance damages our entire industry and undermines the hard work of app developer entrepreneurs everywhere.”
I think that it is fair to say that given the sheer wealth and political power of modern technology companies, the more irked they become at the NSA and its activities, the more likely we are to see change. Google et al have become large, well monied political players. Money is speech, after all.
And we’ve seen that tech companies can enact governmental change in the recent decision by the government to loosen the rules regarding sharing how many requests for user data that they receive. Several large firms were willing to take the government to court, and the government relented.
It’s simple to dismiss the new revelations as overblown outrage — Down with this sort of thing! What’s for lunch? — but instead I’d hazard that the news has an important takeaway worth remembering: The NSA found a gap in the armor of data, and happily helped itself. It will continue to do this. So, we can take the app data story as indicative of future performance.
Something to think about.