Essay: Why It’s Time for Zuck to Back His NSA Criticisms with Cash

From my new essay, exclusively on, about Zuckerberg’s call to Obama asking him to ramp down NSA spying:

“The Internet is our shared space,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It helps us connect. It spreads opportunity. This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the U.S. government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.”

Given that Facebook worked with the NSA to create “the tech equivalent of a safety deposit box that only the NSA and the corresponding tech company can access… (the equivalent of) …  a locked briefcase full of intel left in a digital garbage can with the NSA swinging in to pick it up at a prescribed time,” Zuckerberg’s confusion is — what else? — confusing.

It’s as if he is shocked —  shocked! — to find that crazy dystopian data-vacuuming of everything about everyone all the time is going on at his own company. Yet he engineered it, in part.

But here’s the part of Zuck’s doth-protest-buckets post I found especially intriguing. He writes:

So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the Internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure.”

Can we? Can we really?

18 thoughts on “ Essay: Why It’s Time for Zuck to Back His NSA Criticisms with Cash

  1. “So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the Internet we want.”

    So its down into the basement with me, two tin cans, and lots of string.

    I’m building a modem that will operate on this tried and true voice line technology.

    • Lemme know when you figure out how to post lolcats.

      (Imagine a Rall cartoon of someone stuffing a coot ittl kitteh into a can.)

      • Technical note to self: Baud rate goes down when kitty tangles in string. Don’t use cat food can for next proto.

  2. “Can we really?”

    In a word, no – a common saying in the tech world is something along the lines of, “The white hats have to be right every time, the black hats only have to be right once” However, we damn well could stop creating more black hats under the guise of ‘keeping us safe’

    Hell, the announcement that the NSA broke HTTPS shows it can be done. Not so long ago, “everyone knew” that it’d take a hundred computers a hundred years to break just one message – let alone suborning the whole schlemiel. Now that China knows it can be done, how long do you suppose it will take them to do it? It’s a race between them and the identity thieves.

    Thanks for keeping us safe, there, NSAssholes.

  3. I will provide the Zuck-to-English translation:

    I’m Mark Zuckerberg. All I care about is Facebook. I’m not interested in whether it helps or harms individuals, nor am I interested in the end result of Facebook as an aggregate (that is, if you added up all the pluses and the minuses which way would the needle tilt). I make a big show about how it empowers and connects and impactfulizes and christalmighty knows what other bullshit I’ve vomited out over the years. But all I care about is that everyone uses it, and I get to keep telling myself that I’m terrific.

    By “all I care about is Facebook,” I should expand: All I care about is me. My ego is uncontrollable. Back in Harvard, I was doing the high-tech version of putting mirrors on my shoes so that I could look up girls’ dresses. (Go on, Google it. While you’re at it, reflect that everything I’m writing here applies to my pals at Google, too.) I got away with it. I get away with everything. 70 years ago, I might have been one of the doctors in the American south who was experimenting with syphilis victims. Or a few years later, I might have been one of the people in the Milgram experiment, leaning all my weight on the button, and not understanding why everyone was so upset.

    No one has ever cared sufficiently about me to take me aside, give me a good sharp smack across the mouth and tell me about how all the meatbags out there are real human beings.

    Look at what my “genius” came up with. A fantastic way to piss away billions of hours of creativity and energy on “updates” about sandwiches. And let’s not forget all the people who are now not only out of work but will never be able to find work again following one of their Facebook posts going viral into the Internet-body, where it can be found from now until the heat death of the civilization. Do I care some teacher lost her job because a photo she posted showed her holding — not drinking, just holding — a beer? Fuck no. I covered that already. All I care about is me, and pretending that I’m doing something important with my pampered, privileged life. And getting all you suckers on board. Christ, you have no idea how good it feels to screw over other people. I’ve read about orgasms. I suspect that an orgasm is a slightly less good version of how I feel every time I think about me.

    Do I give to charity? Sure do. My accountant tells me to. Shit, ever read the Bible. Check out the story of the widow’s mite. I could give away 99% of my fortune AND STILL be rich beyond your wildest dreams. And look at all the starfuckers who’ve worn their knees to their patellas’ inner surface following me around, singing my praises.

    But let’s get to the NSA. Do I give a fuck about the NSA? Nope. In fact, if they were to show up and tell me to roll over on all of you, you’d better believe they won’t need to tell me twice. Shit, if they ever tell me to tamper with your files and plant evidence, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. I’d let 100 million of you burn to death before I’d inconvenience myself for a second with the risk of jail on a, what do you call it? A principle? As a computer geek, I know that the NSA has access to pretty much the entire communications grid. Have I used the intellectual resources of Facebook to resist that blanket surveillance? Hell no. I”m all for it. The government will never let my company collapse. Without it, how on earth would they as easily track all of you sheep?

    Your privacy means nothing to me. Ever stare out the back window of your hovel and see a dog taking a crap? Do you look away because the animal needs “privacy”? Of course not.

    Yeah. That’s kind of my thinking on the subject too.

    • “everything I’m writing here applies to my pals at Google, too.”

      Wow. Just wow. So you, personally, know every person who works at Google? All 25,000 of them? That’s just really impressive.

      “Go on, Google it.”

      Funny the way you’re slamming Googlies in the same post that you’re recommending their flagship product.

      “Do I give to charity?”

      Bear in mind that you’re talking about the biggest philanthropist in 2013 – would you prefer he gave nothing? Sure, he gets a tax break: a fraction of what he gave (do the math, it’s a losing proposition) Did you notice where he gave the money? The Silicon Valley Community Foundation. (“google it: 🙂 You know, the same area you accused him of destroying? You cited the parable of the Widow’s Mite – so can we safely assume that you regularly give *all* your wealth to the poor?

      “70 years ago, I might have been one of the doctors in the American south who was experimenting with syphilis victims.”

      Because writing a program that millions of people use is the exact, same, thing. uh-huh, un-huh

      “let’s not forget all the people who are now not only out of work but will never be able to find work again following one of their Facebook posts”

      Because – as everyone knows – Mark Zuckerberg personally held a gun to their heads and forced them to post self-incriminating pictures in a public forum.

      “Christ, you have no idea how good it feels to screw over other people”

      So, I assume you feel good posting this? You’re doing your best to stir up resentment against hundreds of thousands of people you’ve never met.

      “No one has ever cared sufficiently about me to take me aside, give me a good sharp smack across the mouth and tell me about how all the meatbags out there are real human beings”

      Read that while looking in the mirror, Al. All the googlies and facebookers are likewise real human beings. Funny how you can claim to be so against prejudice, while extruding this kind of thing out the other end of your alimentary canal.

      Hypocrite much?

      • Crazy,

        1. Learn to read for content. You miss, ENTIRELY, the point of the OP. Read. Reflect. Think. Strive to achieve comprehension of the esoteric as well as exoteric content of what is being said (e.g., the point about “Google it” was meta. You can’t get away from Google anymore, even if you think it’s evil. Facebook is the same. Even if I’m not on it, my friends are, so I can still be monitored.) Nothing personal, Crazy, but if this is your best, maybe you oughta keep it to yourself.

        2. The point of the parable of the widow’s mite isn’t that you must give every penny. The point of the story — its moral lesson — is that the genuine act of charity comes from its capacity to allow the donor to comprehend the need of the recipient. And that comes when the donor gives something that costs them: a zero-sum game. Feeding a hungry person is nice. Going hungry to feed a hungry person is a greater form of charity. I don’t mind if people say “Mark Zuckerberg gave $300 million to something.” I mind when people make it sound like it was some sort of act of a great philanthropist. It’s buying good press so he can keep Facebook’s Q rating high.

        3. Syphilis and programming. Yes, they are the same. Refer to Point 1. Here’s a computer programmer writing a program that will allow the government to backdoor its way into everyone’s computer without a search warrant. Here’s a doctor preparing blood samples of syphilis patients who are not receiving penicillin (the standard curative at the time). They are both guilty of the same thing: “If I didn’t do it, someone else would. I have to take care of myself. I was only following orders. Etc., etc.” Only an idiot would assume ALL doctors are evil or ALL programmers. That’s understood.

        4. Why don’t you devote even a fraction of this effort, Crazy, to the major points of my post? Here: Zuckerberg’s information gathering network does what the government tells him to. He has no interest in protecting anyone’s privacy if it means, for a single second, that Facebook could be placed at risk. By extension, the question grows to “Why do so few of the Internet people warn the public that, literally, every keystroke can be monitored by the government? Why no collective effort to warn the public?” That’s the issue. Not rushing to Mr. Zuckerberg’s defense whenever someone dares to call him a self-absorbed tool.

      • “Only an idiot would assume ALL doctors are evil or ALL programmers. ”

        I couldn’t agree more. Above, you accuse all googlies of being the kind of bad person you assume Zuckerberg to be. Earlier, on another thread, you explicitly and repeatedly said that all programmers are to be held accountable for NSA and other assorted capital crimes such as riding a bus or buying a house. It’s kind of hard to deny your own words, idiot.

        You need to go re-read the widow’s mite. It says nothing about the recipient. The point is about the proportionality of the giving. A good point, but in order to get up on your high horse about it, you need to be doing better than Zuckerberg. His $970M donation was approximately 1/30 of his entire net personal worth. Did you, or did you not, contribute a significantly greater proportion of your own net wealth to charity this year? I’d put that at around a third (10x as much.)

        Since it’s bible study day, I’ll go with Matt 7:3 “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

        Frankly I’m disappointed. You usually are a thoughtful and compassionate poster. Yet on this particular subject, you go way off the deep end. Perpetrating stereotypes, tarring all with the same brush, actively encouraging hatred of entire groups based on the actions of a few, etc.

        I expected better of you.

      • When CrazyH doesn’t like something, he just cherry picks whichever of his opponent’s points he *thinks* he can easily smash. Intellectually lazy and dishonest. His MO.

  4. When Windows 95 was in the works, the Feds did come to Microsoft asking for a back door. Bill, et al, patiently explained that a back door could just as easily be used by the bad guys. They tried at Intel as well – and some of us may remember the Clipper Chip being universally panned. Knowing a little something about computer security myself, I can safely say that 99.99% of tech firms do not intentionallyleave back doors into their works. That kind of thing almost certainly did occur in the 70’s or even 80’s, but we’ve had thirty years’ experience since that time. A back door into Facebook would be like Zuckerberg putting all his wealth onto a boat he knew leaked.

    I am thoroughly surprised at the way everybody in the industry bent over & spread ’em for the Feds. The big, old, telecommunications firms, not so much – but the younger businesses simply haven’t had enough time for the idealistic innovators to be succeeded by the sleazy slimeballs. (“everybody” in this case being defined as “the top brass.” As with any other industry, the worker bees don’t even know what’s going on, let alone have a say in the decisions.)

    I’m betting there was a little arm twisting going on. Coupla MIBs show up, “Nice little website yous gots here. It’d be a shame if anyting was to happen to it…” What would you do if the black SUV pulled up in your driveway and the MIBs gave you an offer you couldn’t refuse?

    • Crazy,

      These are good points. But…

      First. This: ( Short version: The NSA intercepted packages that had laptops, opened them up, slipped in the necessary eavesdropping software, and put the packages back on their way. Microsoft’s willing assistance is merely a convenience, not a necessity.

      Second. Although this is dipping my toe into the waters of paranoia, what’s Bill Gates etc. going to say? “Um, ladies and gentlemen, as ordered to by the NSA, I have deliberately put backdoors in all Microsoft products.” You make a good point: a backdoor that NSA can exploit is a backdoor that someone else can exploit. It’s like giving every single person a loaded handgun on the assumption that almost everyone will use them responsibly. But when has long-term consequences ever been a part of government planning?

      Most of my disgust and hate of Zuck et alia is because they all go around talking about what good corporate citizens they are, how they “don’t be evil,” and all that. The media just nods its head and stenos even faster. If Gates or Zuck gave a damn, they’d put all their jobs in America. Their interest in the third world is as a cheap source of programmers and factory drones.

    • And while we’re on bible study day. That’s not the lesson I take from the widow’s mite. She gives her small amount of money because has empathy. She understands the suffering of the other. Her gift is her compassion to the other, the consideration that “he” and “I” are the same. It is that emotional connection that is the best outcome of charity as it reinforces the premise of the Golden Rule “Do unto others …”

      She does so because she is compelled by her own nature to give because she understands the suffering of the other.

      That’s what makes her action “good.”

      Yes, Zuckerberg handing out 1/3 of his money is a mighty big check. But he isn’t doing it because he genuinely understands what it’s like to face grinding, inescapable poverty. If Zuckerberg has ever gone hungry for more than, say, a day and a half, I’ll eat my hat. He isn’t doing it as the end result of a deep introspection from which he came away with an intuitive understanding of the other person as a person.

      In the source documents on this matter (I mean Zuck’s donation/tax writeoff) does anyone mention how much in taxes Zuck’s gotten away with not paying via sneaky-pete corporate structures, loopholes and dodges?

      As for my charitable works. I haven’t received a raise in almost five years. My earnings continue to drop (in real spending power) every year. I buy my clothes in thrift shops (which helps the poor, rather than stockholders of corporations). I actually give dollar bills to the sad stories on the subway, even though I know most of them are gonna blow it on booze or drugs. I am something like a year behind on my rent, and my very patient landlord, is the one who gets pretty much all the spare coin I have. Could I do more charitably? Absolutely.

      The difference is, I don’t hold a press conference when I hand someone on the sidewalk a can of salmon. The difference is, the media doesn’t vomit all over itself when I do something. The biggest difference is that if I were to give 1/3 of my haha wealth to a charity, I would end up on the street. Mark Zuckerberg could have given 99/100 of his wealth, and he would still go home to a fantastic mansion in a gated community. (And we’re back to the initial point.)

      I do want to thank you for these little posts back and forth. I have found — mainly due to the Facebook Effect in which everyone’s attention span has dwindled to about 11 seconds — that very few people can actually still pay attention for an entire goddamn sentence, let alone paragraphs.

      It is nice to find that there are still people who think the big thoughts and use the good words. I may disagree at times, but boyoboy, am I glad there’s still someone worth getting into a screaming match with.

      • Now you’re talking.

        You wanna pick on Zuckerberg’s apparent hypocrisy, I’m right there with you. I can’t speak to the man’s inner soul because I don’t know him. Maybe he’s corrupt to the core, and maybe he’s not. I simply don’t know. Judging by his *actions* I agree wholeheartedly with Ted’s analysis.

        Some of the rest, absolutely. I used to admire Google’s “Don’t be evil” philosophy – WTF happened? Microsoft was evil from day one. Steve Jobs was … hard. He was an asshole personally, but he was also a creative genius. (unlike Gates, who never actually contributed a damn thing.)

        Our only point of contention has been the rest of the geeks, the people who actually work for a living. Yep, some of us got rich – kind of accidentally. The vast majority of us are not motivated by money, but rather the challenge of solving the cool puzzles. Most of us are on the liberal side of the universe, absolutely opposed to discrimination and senseless wars. Women, gays & brown people in our field are typically treated as equals. *Nothing* else matters besides, “can you play our game?” We’re not the oppressors because we are not in the least bit interested in driving the train – it’s a hell of a lot more fun to take the engine apart.

        Here’s a reference you might find interesting. It’s a little dated & the white on black thoroughly sucks, but it was based on actual research. (there are other versions lying around, but some of them have been polluted by the poster’s bias. This is the closest to the original I could find.)

        See ya’ round.

      • ah, a note – should you follow that link, note that the word “Hacker” is used differently than in common usage today. The author would have used “cracker” to mean “black hat” “Hacker” would be a generic keyboard artiste, which would apply equally to white hats & black hats.

      • Alex,

        CrazyH calls you an idiot, and you commend him for his attention span?

        He demands you tell of your charitable works, so you do, as if you have to defend yourself? Seriously, man?

        He is just hypersensitive about himself and his fellow tech nerds. You were just attacking the top Google guys, and he takes it as an attack on all Google employees.

        And hypocrisy? CrazyH loooves socialism, except when it comes to his own self-proclaimed riches. Because HE earned it, OK? He just likes the game. But those REALLY rich guys are assholes. Are you following me? Guess what? Donald Trump and Warren Buffet say the same damn thing. They love the game they play and the money just keeps score.

      • @Jack

        Yes, I’m obviously over-sensitive. Somebody accuses me, my family, and half my friends of heinous crimes, declares jihad against us all and then starts fantasizing about us taking bullets to the back of the skull, yeah, I take offense. (The article was “Good reasons to hate high tech” or something similar if you want to fact check.)

        Is Alex an idiot? No, actually, and already knew that. I figured a good swift kick might bring him back to earth – and it did. Unlike some other, unnamed posters, who never bother to *think* about their opinions; Alex is capable of re-evaluating his position based on new data.

        However, take a good look at the quote I cited. “Only an idiot would assume ALL doctors are evil or ALL programmers.”

        Alex got it right away. Evidently, you didn’t. Do I really have to cast that as a syllogism? Okay…

        A person who assumes ALL programmers are evil is an idiot.

        Alex is a person who assumes ALL programmers are evil

        Therefore, Alex is an ____?

        As I said earlier, I did not then, nor do I think now, that Alex is an idiot. He’s quite obviously a bright guy.

        You might seek to emulate him. If nothing else, it would make you a lot more interesting to debate.

      • I was referring to your quote here:

        “It’s kind of hard to deny your own words, idiot.”

        The same could be said for you.

      • @Jack.

        Right. So was I. I even broke it down into itty bitty steps for you. Sorry, I can’t dumb it down any further than that.

        Might I suggest that you enroll in a Logic class at the same time that you you take ECON 101? Either that, or pipe down when the adults are trying to have a conversation?