Silicon Valley executives are meeting for half a day tomorrow in San Francisco to discuss consumer privacy, and people are kind of freaking out about it.
It all started when Axios reported Monday that people representing some of the largest technology companies in the world planned to meet and “discuss how to tackle growing questions and concerns about consumer privacy online.”
The Information Technology Industry Council, an industry trade group that represents the biggest tech companies in Washington, invited its 67 member-companies to this special meeting. Spokespeople from Adobe, Autodesk, Facebook, Salesforce, and Visa have confirmed to Mashable that they will be in attendance. Adobe also told Mashable that it’s even sending its chief privacy officer Alisa Bergman.
But the meeting isn’t as big of a deal as it sounds.
Sure, privacy and cybersecurity are hot-button issues right now amid the multiple Facebook scandals, surveillance threats, and skyrocketing international tensions. But major internet privacy scandals have been happening for years.
For example, the dating site for people interested in having an affair Ashley Madison had all its usernames hacked and leaked in 2015; a successful phishing scheme listed 10,000 Hotmail username and passwords online in 2009; and AOL accidentally posted a file of 650,000 users’ searches in 2006. And the list goes on.
For just as long as these scandals have been happening, so have keynote meetings (like this upcoming one) that convene bigwigs from large technology companies.
Industry giants such as Dell, Equinix, and Intel — all members of the Council — said they will be skipping the gathering tomorrow, and Rapid 7’s public policy director Harley Geiger who also isn’t attending said it’s simply another meeting on privacy and security. These sorts of things, he said, have been happening for decades.
“[The reactions] made it seem like this is a secret meeting or sensationalistic,” Geiger said. “This is a convening about privacy principles and coming to a consensus about privacy polices as well as other types of policy areas. It’s actually a pretty normal and routine thing for a trade association or any kind of coalition to be doing.”
Within the council, many committees focus on different topics, including cybersecurity and privacy. Geiger, who previously served as a senior legislative counsel focusing on tech and internet issues on the Hill, is a member of both.
These committees were designed to let members specialize on topics to later push for policies, and Geiger predicts that tomorrow’s meeting — although not formatted like their normal ones — will just be for companies to express their ideas of security and will get parsed by the security committee.
The Information Technology Industry Council normally congregates in Washington, D.C. at the trade organization’s headquarters with people calling in, but it probably made more sense to have it in San Francisco tomorrow, Geiger postulated, because it is closer to where security heads of corporations are located.
It’s not uncommon for the Council to meet in different places for different purposes, even internationally.
Although it’s not a top secret meeting of high-profile tech heavyweights, as people on social media have framed it to be, it will still be interesting to see what comes out of it with so many privacy and security issues on consumers’ minds.
Most likely, Geiger said, we will see the EU’s GDPR, California’s privacy bill, and subsequent security and privacy incidents drive the conversation for at least a short while, but a lot of work will still have to happen after the hours-long meeting tomorrow.
“Coming to a consensus on privacy or security issues — just like many other topics — is very hard, and I think that this a major, major reason why we haven’t seen more federal action on this topic, like in Congress,” Geiger said.
“It’s a difficult problem, but to some extent, coming up with a consensus position [among the many companies] that’s what at trade association is supposed to do. And I don’t know to what extent they’ll be successful, but they are smart people and they’re putting in some effort to try to get it done.”