Internet users are calling out a dozen tech giants for their sudden turnaround on a controversial privacy bill, launching an email campaign this week with the plain message, “You betrayed us.”
The chief executive officers of Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM, Symantec, and other companies, along with Salesforce web hosting service, quietly sent a letter (pdf) to U.S. Congress earlier this month endorsing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a bill that would allow tech companies to share user information with the government in cases of “cybersecurity threats”—which privacy advocates say only serves to broaden government spying powers and reduce consumer protections.
Online activists say the reason the companies changed their stance on CISA—also known as the Cyber Threat Information Sharing Legislation, as it is referred to in the letter—is because the bill would grant them “total immunity” from prosecution for sharing private user data with the government.
“[T]hese companies know that their customers hate CISA, and so they’re jumping into the water together, hoping there’s safety in numbers,” the new campaign states at its website, YouBetrayedUs.org. “After all, you can’t blame Microsoft if Apple is doing the same thing, right?”
More than 15,000 users sent emails to the tech companies reading, “By supporting CISA, you are selling out your customers’ privacy to a power-obsessed government. And what are they giving you in return? Immunity from privacy laws will be nothing compared to the damage done to your businesses when consumers leave you.”
In addition to the email push, digital rights group Fight for the Future is boycotting its Heroku/Salesforce web hosting service for what it called a “remarkably irresponsible approach” to cybersecurity that would undermine public trust in the tech industry.
CISA has yet to be voted upon by the Senate, although a decision is expected this fall. But public outcry and grassroots campaigns against government surveillance in the wake of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations caught on with tech companies who said they valued user privacy over government access to data. In June, Apple CEO Tim Cook slammed the company’s rivals, including Google and Facebook, for “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it.”
But in their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who introduced the CISA legislation, Apple and 13 other tech companies appealed for “urgent action” by Congress to pass CISA and other pending bills to “improve trust in information technology, software and data services while also shaping the law in our online world.”
Fight for the Future, which has helped lead the call to kill CISA quickly galvanized online activists to challenge the companies’ private backing of pro-surveillance legislation.
“Any company that supports a bill like CISA or sits silently and allows it to pass is a company that can’t be trusted,” said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer. “Internet users are fed up, companies that abandon their commitment to user privacy and security should expect the Internet to abandon them.”