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article imageOp-Ed: Ad-free Facebook would still include 'Big Brother' NSA

By Craig Boehman     Jul 23, 2013 in Technology
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone suggested that Facebook should offer a paid, ad-free experience for its users for $10 per month. That would be great. An NSA-free option would be even better.
It may strike even a semi-conscious Facebook user as odd that one of social media's crowned princes would be spending his spare time thinking of ways to better a competitor's business. Not that Facebook's and Twitter's platforms are similar enough to paint one another as blood rivals. A bit of friendly advice is all it appears to be. Fine. Not that the idea is new or hasn't been already been covered in Facebook meetings. But Stone does Tweet some royal influence.
Stone's suggestion stems from the formation of his new start-up, Jelly. Former employees of Facebook were involved with the project, and Stone was assisted by one of them to help navigate Facebook's myriad of settings.
“Camille actually leaned over my shoulder and helped me go through every setting to simplify my Facebook experience on iPhone,” wrote Stone. “Now I’m keeping up with friends and family on Facebook like a billion other people.”
And like a billion other people, Stone, your user data is being stolen by the bumbling thieves at the NSA. But you already knew that. You read the headlines, and more pertinently, Twitter (like tech giants disclosed so far) must have been targeted by the secret FISA court to turn over user data to the government, right?
Your Twitter baby's name is included among those of 63 companies in a July letter to Obama and Congressional leaders requesting government transparency. Your alliance members, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, request to be allowed to report the following to your customers and users:
• The number of government requests for information about their users
• The number of individuals, accounts, or devices for which information was requested
• The number of requests that sought communications content, basic subscriber information, and/or other information.
It's obvious that tech companies must push back against the government now that the NSA's black cat is out of the bag. Big revenue dollars are at stake. Companies and their reputations are taking hits like Rocky Balboa before the ding-ding of the final round. That companies are simultaneously sticking up for our rights (if only for their own benefit) while at the same time abusing them in the worst possible ways (if only for the government's benefit) virtually guarantees a migraine case of cognitive dissonance for those of us trying to make heads or tails of the crime scene. But even before all of the NSA skullduggery, Twitter has been proactive in spreading democratic values in two very important ways.
Tweet this: #Twitter has fought on behalf of its users to protect their #privacy from government #surveillance. They score high on an EFF assessment, being one of only two companies (along with to register resistance in six categories, including requiring a warrant for content, and fighting for user rights in the courts and in Congress.
Twitter shared its role with Facebook and YouTube in helping Arab Spring activists and demonstrators culminate beyond the borders of Tunisia after the suicide-protest of street vendor, Mohamad Bouazizi. According to The National, the most popular Twitter hashtags during the first three months of the Arab Spring were “Bahrain”, “Egypt”, “Jan25”, “Libya” and “Protest”. Twitter and social media also played huge roles in amplifying the voices of the 99 percent in the Occupy Wall Street movement – and still does.
I've already talked about the role of industry in collecting user data, and the temptation that poses to government agencies bent on acquiring intelligence no matter what the cost to a democratic society. The very idea that data collection exists as a model of business practice should raise the red flag for users without having to scroll through a hundred pages of legal jargon in the user agreement. Companies like Google and Facebook do utilize our personal information for the purpose of selling tailored ads back to us. They also 'know' everything we have confessed to them over the years in our private confessional booths in our bedrooms and offices. The US government knows this; it's why they have all our data squirreled away until they might want to puree our nuts in a blender.
Positively, we should hold companies liable for harvesting our private data on behalf of the government whether they're doing it voluntarily or not. Boycotts en masse would be very effective in this anti-NSA climate. If we can't stop the government at first, we stop the companies dead in their tracks. We can also choose to use more secure means of communications (like encrypted email and anonymous browsers like Tor) in the meantime.
Biz Stone, at the risk of oversimplification, there's only one privacy setting you have to worry about on Facebook. It's simple enough that you won't require someone leaning over your shoulder to assist you. It's the same privacy setting we use on Twitter, incidentally.
It's called N/A.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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