More Data is Better – Or Is It?

Talk to Google or Facebook and they will tell you that they never met a piece of information that they did not want to add to their databases.  More information means better profiles;  better profiles mean that they can charge more for ads.

But some Silicon Valley firms are rethinking that idea.

Silicon Valley startup Envoy, for example has made a decision to keep as little customer information as possible.  That way if the government asks them for the data, they can say they don’t not have it.

Some large tech firms are beginning to offer services that rely far less on collecting user data.

Even early stage startups are beginning to realize that between government demands for data and hackers, that holding more data is a liability rather than an asset.

Startups are beginning to invest scarce resources to reduce the amount of data that they collect, even if it slows short term growth

Even Marc Andreessen, the prominent venture capitalist and cofounder of Netscape, said “Engineers are not inherently anti-government, but they are becoming radicalized, because they believe that the FBI, in  particular, and the U.S. government, more broadly, wants to outlaw encryption”.

Andreessen says that startups are “particularly wary” of Burr-Feinstein, the proposed legislation that would force vendors to add back doors to their encryption software.

For some tech vendors, it is not possible to follow this data minimization strategy since they are dependent on selling that data to make money.  For other vendors, they need to have access in order to deliver their service – web based email is an example of this.

Other vendors – Apple’s iMessage, Whatsapp, Signal and others – have added end to end encryption where the vendors do not have the keys.  If the FBI comes to them, they can say that they do not have access to the data.

Whatever the outcome, the government has certainly changed the conversation in Silicon Valley and that will influence the design of systems for a long time.  We will have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Information for this post came from the Washington Post.

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