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Edward Snowden says big tech has a business model akin to ‘abuse’

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  • American whistleblower and activist Edward Snowden has compared the business models of tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon to “abuse.”
  • Snowden, who is renowned for copying and leaking highly classified information from the National Security Agency while working as a CIA employee and subcontractor, was speaking at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
  • He spoke via teleconference from Russia, where he’s held political asylum since 2013. 
  • Touching upon a variety of topics related to personal data and security, Snowden also discussed Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which he said is “a good bit of legislation in terms of effort,” but also said failed to offer “the correct solution.”
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Edward Snowden says big tech firms like Amazon, Google and Facebook have business models tantamount to “abuse.”

The US whistleblower and activist — who is most famous for copying and leaking highly classified information from the National Security Agency while working as a CIA employee and subcontractor — was speaking via teleconference on Monday at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal. His video feed was coming from Russia, where he’s held political asylum since 2013.

Speaking about ways in which he feels the world has moved on in terms of personal and technological security since his leaks first came to light, the 36-year-old said: “I feel, looking six years on, that the world is changing.”

“I think as much as we see anger rising, and as much as we see awareness of problems beginning to develop, people are quite frequently mad at the right people for the wrong reasons, as they see this increasing predation on all of us publicly, whether we’re talking governmental or corporate [entities],” he said. 

“Yes, these people are engaged in abuse, particularly when you look at Google; at Amazon; at Facebook,” he continued. “Their business model is abuse. And yet every bit of it, they argue, is legal. Whether we’re talking about Facebook or the NSA, that is the problem. That’s the real problem. We have legalized the abuse of the person, or the personal. We have entrenched a system that makes the population vulnerable for the benefit of the privileged.”

Snowden also offered a mixed assessment of one major recent effort to curb big tech’s use of data: the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, better known simply as ‘GDPR,‘ which first came into force in May 2018. That law places strict requirements on how data can be stored and used in the EU. 

Though he called it “a good bit of legislation in terms of effort,” he also said it was misguided in its diagnosis of the problems caused by big tech.

“I think the mistake it makes is actually in the name. ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ misplaces the problem. The problem isn’t data protection  — the problem is data collection,” he said.

“Regulating the protection of data presumes that the collection of data in the first place was proper; that it was appropriate; that it doesn’t represent a threat or a danger; that it’s okay to spy on everybody all the time, whether they’re customers or whether they’re citizens, so long as it never leaks,” he continued.

“I would say not only is that incorrect — it’s that, if we’ve learnt anything from 2013, it’s that eventually, everything leaks,” he said.

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