Can We Trust Tech Companies In A Post-PRISM World?

By: Zach Walton - June 15, 2013

Trust is something that’s earned, not given. Over the past decade, we’ve come to trust tech companies with our data because they promised to keep it secure. That trust was called into question earlier this month.

In early June, it was revealed through a number of leaks that that NSA was spying on phone and Internet communications. The latter was most troubling as the leaked document alleged that the tech companies we have come to trust – Google, Facebook, Microsoft and more – were handing over data to the U.S. government. Since then, these same companies have been trying to repair the trust between themselves and the consumer. The question now is whether or not it’s working.

Can you trust tech companies with your private information anymore? Let us know in the comments.

To better understand this issue, we first have to look at the kind of information that’s allegedly being collected, and how that information is being used. The NSA allegedly collects email, chat logs, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP logs, file transfers, video conferencing logs, notifications and online social networking details from services belonging to Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and more.

It’s a little scary, but the official line is that not all of this data is used. According to the NSA, the information is only used to target “non-U.S. persons outside of the U.S.” The agency also says that it tries to keep the collection of what it calls “incidental data,” as in data collected from Americans, to a minimum.

In the week since the NSA spy program was revealed, Google has provided us with a little more information on how the agency collects information. The tech giant says that the leaked documents allegations that Google provides a back door to its servers are untrue. Instead, it delivers requested information to the NSA either through secure FTP servers or by hand. Both delivery methods are incredibly outdated, and would require the NSA to submit a request to Google each time it wanted something. It’s incredibly inefficient, but it also tells the NSA that Google is only begrudgingly doing this.

What’s disturbing about this, however, is that Google is the only one to come forward with exact details on how it interacts with the NSA. Every other tech company allegedly working with the NSA have only denied their involvement and some have even said they have no knowledge of PRISM. That may be true, but Google’s admittance of begrudgingly working with the NSA causes one to doubt whether or not these other companies are actually telling the truth.

One case in particular that was just made public makes it seem like these companies knew what the NSA was up to and at least attempted to fight back. One of the few FISA court opinions that has been made public details the fight between a redacted tech company and the government request for data. The company fought against government requests for data arguing it was a violation of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. In the end, however, it was forced to comply with the data requests. Many are now reporting that the company in question was Yahoo. Here’s what it said after the PRISM documents were leaked:

“Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.”

Direct access – that’s the keyword used in a lot of these statements. Google said the same thing, and has reiterated multiple times since that it does not give the NSA direct access to its servers. So is Yahoo doing the same as Google? Is it making the NSA jump through every hoop possible for data while delivering said data via outdated methods? We don’t know, but Yahoo would stand to gain quite a bit if it shared more details on how it interacts with government.

In fact, every tech company listed on the leaked PRISM documents would be doing themselves a major favor by detailing how it interacts with the government requests for data. It may not immediately restore trust lost, but transparency is an important first step.

Google and Facebook have both recognized this with their latest move. Both companies are now asking the government to be more transparent by allowing them to publish data requests. In the case of Google, the company asks the government “to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures – in terms of both the number we receive and their scope.” The company then says that its “numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls short of the claims being made.”

As for Facebook, the company says it “would welcome the opportunity to provide a transparency report that allows us to share with those who use Facebook around the world a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond.”

The cynics among us would see the above statements as nothing but a PR move. In a way, they’re absolutely right. Google, Facebook and others have much to lose if they can’t be forthright with their consumers on how they respond and comply with government requests with data. As long as these court orders remain secret, people are only left to assume the worst.

Do you think Google and Facebook should be allowed to publish more detailed transparency reports? Would you trust them more if they did? Let us know in the comments.

Assume the worst the people did. Earlier this week, private search engine DuckDuckGo announced that it broke its traffic record by serving 2 million direct searches. The search engine didn’t elaborate on the traffic spike’s cause, but we can only assume that it’s somewhat related to fears of NSA spying. There are few search engines not affiliated with major tech companies so people may be turning to other services.

The above is just one example, but other privacy minded alternatives may start seeing more traffic in the coming weeks as well. In fact, one developer has made it easy for others to make the switch with PRISM Break, a guide to all the privacy-first services currently available.

Trust is something that’s earned, and the trust that tech companies have been earning over the years is slowly disintegrating. That’s not an entirely bad thing though. With a renewed push to earn our trust, tech companies and their mighty lobbying forces may be able to achieve something that almost a decade of court challenges have not – government transparency.

Will you ever trust a major tech company again? Would you trust them if they seriously fought for transparency? Let us know in the comments.

Zach Walton

About the Author

Zach WaltonZach Walton is a Writer for WebProNews. He specializes in gaming and technology. Follow him on Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Google+ +Zach Walton

View all posts by Zach Walton
  • Ron

    Should I be concerned about responding to this article? :>(

    Individuals in our country have already given up a lot of hard won “freedoms” through complacency, ignorance and just plain stupidity. We’re quick to jump on the latest tech fad or convenience — without giving thought to the potential social, political and economic consequences to ourselves as well as to the larger, global arena.

    It’s easy to blame large, essentially faceless corporations such as Google and Facebook for misusing personal information or succumbing to governmental pressures — but (like the government) “they” is “us” . . . and we can only lose what we allow them to take away.

  • John Colascione

    I don’t even really need to read the article on this. From the title alone, the simple answer is No.

    • Richard Levine

      Seek Help……from a good shrink.

  • Wozza

    Never trust anything of the establishment.

    They have succeeded in building the infamous Draconian society they have dreamed of, brainwashing us all into their lies for centuries. Unless we start voting with our dollars, speaking up loud & clear, they will not change nor relent.

    Scream it at the top of your voices people – enough is enough – and watch them run with fear, the same fear they tried to instill into us!

    We have to hit these evil forces directly in their hip pocket. Just like GMO the poisoning our food supply, we can stop the spying, the GMO, the patenting of our human genes, the monopolisation of every fabric of our lives, by merely stopping spending our dollars with these evil forces.

    Money is the only thing they have in their heart so let’s destroy their bottom lines & tell them all, it’s by our rules, the people’s rules not the minorities rules, else we destroy your business.

    People – you do not realise in your trance that your voice speaks loudest – you’ve forgotten you’ve got a voice. It’s time for the revolution, enough is enough. It’s time to get your power back!

  • Michael Gordon

    And they seriously think we should go on the “Cloud”?

  • common sense is no longer common

    Of course not. Shame on anyone who ever did trust them.

  • Mike

    Ron Paul was right and big government is only getting worse.
    Let’s get back to the Constitution while we still have a country.

    • Richard Levine

      You think we still have a country?

  • Randy Penn

    Trust? Google? Microsoft? Facebook? The idiots that use all these “social” networks are just plain stupid. Google is the worst, maybe Microsoft is equal but anyone with a brain knows the NSA and CIA have owned Google since the beginning. They sold billions of dollars of their stock a few years back to fund more drone strikes! They provide the google maps from space! In 1999 when I worked in NYC they had a pipe into every major provider and had already established their headquarters in the main NOC. The thing is why isnt Obama being tried for treason and impeached! He has ignored the Constitution!

  • Bill

    Big Brother is more than a Big Brother those who trust Big Brother
    have that title to the bridge that leads to nowhere.

  • joe

    If anyone trusted the folks at these companies they’re the fools. Same goes with trusting government.

  • W. Goulart

    The core problem is that as a nation, we invite in people who can harm us. We should stop invited them in. We should find better ways to screen those who want in. Our beloved Statue of Liberty has a poem affixed to the base that written by Emma Lazarus (1889 – 1887) The sensibilities of the late 1800 are nice and warm and fuzzy. But, let’s be real: Those sensibilities are quaint, outmoded, and not relevant in the 21st century.

  • Peter Meyer

    “Can We Trust Tech Companies In A Post-PRISM World?” We never could. The so-called ‘privacy policies’ of the well-known web mail providers only mentioned the ‘privacy’ of the account holder, not the ‘privacy’ of anyone sending email to that account. So NSA could search (or ‘request’ a search of) archived email with regard to a certain sender, and so (since email messages often quote the message being replied to) recover messages sent from that account as well.

    And it’s not a “Post-PRISM World”. PRISM is still in effect and the surveillance will surely get worse, as Edward Snowden pointed out in the Guardian interview. But there is a way to keep your confidential messages (and attached files) being read by the NSA — see here.

  • online dailys

    Well I do not understand. So I have nothing to say about that

  • Steve

    Google is full of crap. It was only a few days ago that they said they’ve never even heard of prism.

    When that proved to be a lie, the new line is that “we only give limited information to the government”!? And we’re suppose to trust their word on that??

  • Randy Penn

    I really wonder why the title to this article is asking about a “Post Prism?” What world are you in? “Post” infers the object of the title is over and that is far from the case. The corrupt US government is working hard to keep this as “business as usual” when it is an affront to our Constitutional, no, our UNALIENABLE rights! Wait for the “Post Prism” article for when the program ends – we only just found out about this ongoing crime.

    • Jackie Mackay

      I get your point Randy. Try this though. What the status quo is now, is hardly likely to be the same tomorrow. Why?

      The parasites that feed from our energy, movement and actions as the people of the realm are anything but symbiotic. A parasite is an entity that feeds off a host and gives nothing back – like tapeworms – like diseases. What indeed do the government ‘give us’ as substance in return for our taxes?, AND fees, fines, permits, passports, licences, interest, certificates, insurances and the trusteeship of our rightful allowances? Is this it? (Street lights, sewerage, rubbish collection, schooling, libraries, leisure facilities, parks, and a social worker or so onanonanon??) I’d say we got a bum deal.

      WE could easily get the same services for significantly less than we pay in Council taxes. What else? Oh I forgot – the Military and the Government itself… and .07% foreign Aid.

      Are we going to let this state of affairs pass unquestioned and investigated? No.

      By thinking of the crime as POST – past – over- we can, individually, get into the mind set of right action = corrective action. Rhetoric, mud-slinging, cliquey gossiping and righteous dramas are the kind of foil or mask the parasitic mind casts out to distract the host from de-infesting them. Once discovered they can be removed. Their survival depends on darkness and secrecy…. And also on a lien on the submissive fear of their rather low energy host.

      We have the responsibility to act as the only inalienable right is God given. Our authority to act therefore proceeds from God – whatever religious ribbon is placed upon it.


  • http://- Neil S

    You just need to look around local streets these days to see we are being watched. I’m not surprised that it is the case with Google etc handing over data. The security complex society is becoming more and more apparent and obvious. I don’t trust them one bit!

  • Bill

    Anymore? Who was silly enough to trust them in the first place? Everyone with a facebook account has volunteered to give corporate America more control over their lives than they have themselves. Social media is for gullible idiots. It’s a shame the younger generations don’t understand that. As you get older, most of the friends you have won’t matter because your own families will become your focus. Facebook, Google, et al…, however will always have your most embarrassing, and potentially damaging youthful follies to sell to every bidder, be that potential employers, marketers, disgruntled former spouses, people with a grudge against you. Delete everything from your social media pages, and don’t post again. Limit your damage. The trojan horses have already entered your lives.

  • Pizzaman7

    We are turning into a police state. I read articles on this months if not over a year ago and I kind of put it at the back-burner thinking that this could not be true. Now we know this for truth and this has been kept from the public for a long time. If it weren’t such a big deal then why the secrets ? Why did an English paper come out with the truth on this ? Where is the main stream media ?

    This is going to hurt cloud sales. Never sacrifice convenience for common sense and safety. I only have a Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as they are nice to have but I have heavy privacy settings on them. I am going to move away from Google Mail. Time to lower your digital footprint as much as possible ! This is going to hurt innovation on the Internet. We have to be very careful who we trust.

    Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety – Benjamin Franklin

    True words spoken. If they have to protect me by trampling on my constitutional rights then I don’t want their protection !

    Why are they housing and keeping all this information ? Is this government going to try to destroy their political opponents (like they are with the IRS now) ? Are they going to try to police our thoughts ? All kinds of sinister things can be done with this data. Yah….we are told to trust government and don’t listen to the people talking about tyranny….yet in our history this country was started by revolution and standing up to big government forces !

  • Pete

    This is nothing new, we’ve known since the 1980s when it started with phone calls, it was called Echelon downunder.

  • Eric S

    If Banksters are spying on us, they are afraid…… and they should be.

  • Ashish Rathore

    yes i agree with your blog thanks for posting this article.

  • Reynold

    To answer the question simply: No, we shouldn’t trust these tech companies with our info. Before this. Ever. Never. I have been working online full time since 2002 and to this date I have never supplied my real name or any personal information to ANY of these tech giants. Use pseudonyms and never provide any additional or optional information. Sure, these companies can track you anyway, but no reason to serve up your personal details on a silver platter.

  • freedom


  • Richard Levine

    Seek Help!

  • Richard Levine

    What part of Seek Help!, cant you understand?