This time, it's personal: Government spying hits Google where it hurts

Google is truly mad over revelations about government spying on its networks. Finally, some good comes from Snowden's leaks?

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Oh, the irony -- the head of a company dedicated to collecting every scrap of private data possible expressing outrage that people's privacy has been violated. As The Daily Ticker points out, "Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo ... are now working harder than ever to protect their data from hackers and the government so they can make money off that same data to sell personalized ads."

These are the same companies that, before Snowden came along and pulled back the curtain, were secretly in bed with the NSA -- albeit perhaps reluctantly.

Still, with this new groundswell of indignation from the tech industry, good may yet come from Snowden's leaks. The NIST, whose cryptographic standards are used by software developers around the world to keep data confidential, this week announced it is reviewing all its previous recommendations. Revelations that the NSA spends $250 million a year to secretly undermine encryption, using its influence to "weaken the standards that NIST and other standards bodies publish," have already led the NIST to withdraw one cryptographic standard, called Dual EC DRGB.

The federal institute isn't the only one working to restore users' confidence by shoring up defenses. According to the New York Times, "Twitter plans to set up new types of encryption to protect messages from snoops." And Google's Hearn revealed on his blog that "encryption was being worked on prior to Snowden, but it didn't seem like a high priority because there was no evidence it would achieve anything useful, and it cost a lot of resources. Once it became clear how badly compromised the fiber paths were, there was a crash effort to encrypt everything."

As the New York Times notes, "What began as a public relations predicament for America's technology companies has evolved into a ... crisis that threatens the foundation of their businesses, which rests on consumers and companies trusting them with their digital lives."

Speaking at the Usenix conference this week, security expert Bruce Schneier, an outspoken critic of the NSA, pointed out that "fear of NSA snooping has already soured some European companies from using U.S. cloud services, which, in turn, has started putting pressure on Congressional representatives to rein in NSA."

As part of a pushback effort, Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL recently wrote a letter to Congress, in support of the USA Freedom Act, that went beyond the usual calls for transparency to state that "government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms for those programs."

But even as they finally muster against the government collection of personal data, the New York Times warns that "no matter the steps they take, as long as they remain ad companies, they will be gathering a trove of information that will prove tempting to law enforcement and spies."

This story, "This time, it's personal: Government spying hits Google where it hurts," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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