DEAR NSA: Fuck Off, Signed Silicon Valley (An Explainer)

Why The Bay hates the NSA…

This is a magazine piece that I wrote in February. For various reasons, none of which had anything to do with the article itself, it never got published. I’m posting it here in an effort to empty my notebook.

The NSA made them out to look like liars.

For at least the past decade, technology companies — specifically Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo and Microsoft — promised hundreds of millions of users that their personal information was safe.

But, after a series of revelations, beginning this past summer, that turned out not to be true.

The U.S. National Security Agency, outed by Edward Snowden in an 8-month-long PR campaign against government snooping, had been routing those efforts all along.

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Accenture Study Breeds MasterCard Blow Back

From an @AmerBanker story about U.S. Bank (By Mary Wisniewski) in which an Accenture study was cited:

… a recent study from fintech vendor Accenture predicts that U.S. banks could lose 35% market share by 2020 to new competitors ranging from small payments firms to Internet giants, like Google, to retailers.

That one line (in a much larger story not even about the report) caused Theodore Iacobuzio, who is the vice president in charge of Global Insights at MasterCard’s interdisciplinary thought leadership organization, to strike back :

… what the Accenture study points to is real, and a real competitive dynamic: “Another 20 percent could shift to retail-driven players with a mass-market focus—under partnerships between big-box retailers and banks, and potentially independent ventures by retailers.”

Nuclear winter gets reduced to a “potentially”. So much for the big bad 35 percent. And the original American Banker story was about a payment app from….U.S. Bank.

All of this heat and noise in my opinion unintentionally obfuscates the real situation, which is less a threat than a fact of life: competition is increasing pricing pressure, pushing margins down across the payments ecosystem. The question these predictive stories need to answer is: what are we going to do about it?

You can read the Accenture release and find the larger study, here.

At Heart of Mobile Payments: Merchants, Carriers

Note: I’ve been thinking about this story (conceptually) for the past week or so. These are some thoughts that folks can yell at me about — telling me where I’m wrong and how to better think about the birth of mobile payments in America.

Please feel free to do so at either @SeanSposito, or

If the birth of iPhone opened innovators’ eyes wide to the possibility of a new way to pay, then Starbucks was that promise delivered.

In 2009, the Seattle company began working on a pilot that used smartphones and 2-D QR codes to complete transactions.

The system launched nationwide two years later. Within weeks, people paid for lattes’ with money they moved digitally into prepaid account roughly 3 million times.

(Ironically, the first prank call ever made on an iPhone was to a Starbucks in Silicon Valley; Check out minute 5:33, below.)

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Snowden: The NSA is ‘Setting Fire’ to the Internet

In an hour long missive, moderated by an ACLU official at #SXSW, NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden derided government efforts to break the safeguards behind our digital communications.

He railed against critics saying, more than once, that undermining the encryption standards that users’ rely on for privacy is weakening the foundation of the internet.

The conversation was his first in front of an audience since his disclosures became public over the summer, according to the ACLU.

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Live Blogging: Snowden @ SXSW

I’m listening in to Edward Snowden at SXSW; Follow along on Twitter on #AskSnowden, also watch @ACLU and @ACLUlive.

I’m watching live on the Texas Tribune website.

From ACLU:

In his first conversation in front of an audience since his disclosures began making global headlines last year, Edward Snowden will appear via live video next Monday at SXSW Interactive, the festival that brings together tens of thousands of technology professionals and enthusiasts every year in Austin. He’ll be talking to the ACLU’s Ben Wizner and Christopher Soghoian

Soghoian bio (from Wikipedia):

Christopher Soghoian is a Washington, DC based privacy researcher and activist. He first gained notoriety in 2006 as the creator of a website that generated fake airline boarding passes. Since that incident, he has continued to engage in high-profile activism related to privacy and computer security. He is currently the principal technologist and a senior policy analyst with the speech, privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Between 2009 and 2010, he worked for the US Federal Trade Commission as the first ever in-house technical advisor to the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.[1] While at the FTC, he assisted with investigations of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Netflix.

1:01 p.m. (EST):

Was it worth it?

Snowden responds:

“When I came public with this it wasn’t so I could single-handedly change the government tell them what to do.. What I wanted to do is inform the public so they could make a decision.”

Snowden makes the point that the government has never said any one of these stories has risked a human life.

“Every society in the world has benefited.”

Would he do it again?

“The answer is absolutely, ‘yes’.’

“I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I saw the constitution was being violated on a massive scale.”

[Behind Snowden is Article 1 of the Constitution]

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