Corporate America: Throwing Good Money After Bad

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Dilma Rousseff signs the landmark Internet 'Bill of Rights' alongside Paulo Bernardo during the NETmundial meeting in São Paulo (Courtesy: Jorge Araujo)

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 3 May 2014

Akin to Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, Google has been vigorously defending its gMail and Street View services from multiple law suits having trampled on the privacy of the public for years.

While the notion of privacy in electronic communications has long been known to have been compromised by the ECHELON network, except for its scope and ability, the idea that service providers would also engage in snooping is a complete anathema to its customers.

The news that AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, PalTalk, Skype, Twitter, Verizon, Yahoo, YouTube etc. (aka. Corporate America) were complicit in state sponsored mass surveillance was first floated in the Guardian's PRISM report last year. The ensuing rebuttals were unashamedly Shakespearean, that is; Corporate America doth protest too much methinks:

Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM,” said Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order. (Washington Post).
Google: Google cares deeply about the security of our users' data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government 'back door' into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data. (Guardian).
Microsoft:We only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks. (New York Times).

We now know that these corporate behemoths who mounted superficial challenges to the nefarious activities of the US regime, while quietly owning up to what they have been doing all along, was simply fiscal expediency. In fact it was only recently that Google come clean on their duplicitous and criminal behaviour in acknowledging that they scan the content of users' communications for marketing purposes and have changed their privacy policy accordingly.

Google's business decision, this time aimed at countering the growing irrefutable evidence of their malfeasance and hedging that their 'new found honesty' would stem the exodus of their user base, was again, pure fiscal expediency.

And the economic imperative continues:

Over in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, São Paulo, Brazil at the NETmundial meeting on the 23-24 April, another threat was emerging:

Dilma Rousseff had organised the event in response to the NSA monitoring her mobile phone and eMail. The fallout from those reports was inevitable while what followed in both the EU and now Brazil threatened Corporate America's business model.

The Brazilian threat started back in March when the Latin Post reported that the Chamber of Deputies in Congress had passed the world's first Internet Bill of Rights. The bill went on to pass through the Senate and was signed into law by Rousseff on 23 April at the NETmundial meeting. The key issues the legislation sought to address, having caused considerable debate among all participants, were: to protect freedom of expression, the right to privacy and net neutrality.

Unsurprisingly, it was the issue of net neutrality, aka. an open internet, that vexed Corporate America the most. Wikipedia defines this term as:

the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.

In that an open internet is:

where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those on the internet to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party.

Unlike a closed internet that:

refers to the opposite situation, in which established corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content.

So, it is not without a degree of scepticism that we learned on the 14 January a US Appeal Court had struck down the US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) ability to enforce its open internet policy of 2010. A policy that barred internet service providers (ISP's) from discriminating against any legal internet traffic or favouring sites and services that pay extra for faster delivery to customers.

In February the FCC appeared to be working on a proposal to counter the Appeal Court's decision. Then, on the 24 April, in a complete volte-face, having succumbed to the unrelenting pressure of Corporate America, the FCC advocated a system of access and use based on who pays the most. The timing of their announcement was uncanny.

Thus, there is no doubt whatsoever that Corporate America is focused on its financial imperative, seemingly at any cost and even at detriment to itself. Their disingenuous approach to the unfolding issues raised by the Snowden documents and their rapacious greed in closing an open internet has had a deleterious effect on their customer base who are leaving in their droves.

That it would be irrational and inefficient to continue to misallocate any further resources to Corporate America in what is known as a 'sunken cost', or more colloquially, 'throwing good money after bad', is an understatement.

We have always known that heedless self interest was bad morals, we now know that it is bad economics.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt