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Ira Winkler: The RSA Conference boycott is nonsense

Ira Winkler | Jan. 15, 2014
The outrage is more about media hype, hypocrisy and grandstanding than firm principles.

More importantly, are the speakers who pulled out of the RSA Conference going to refuse to speak for events held or sponsored by these organizations? Speakers can make in excess of $10,000 for private events, and I challenge them to be consistent when there is more at stake than an unpaid track session or panel late in the conference.

Perhaps the most audacious example of hypocrisy among the boycotters is the Google employee who has pulled out of the RSA Conference. Don't get me wrong; I respect Google and use many of its offerings. (And I'm not saying that Google is behind the pullout; a more senior Google employee is still speaking at the conference.) But Google's business model literally depends on compiling as much data on individuals as possible and integrating as many data sources together as possible, to such an extent that it could conceivably know more about a person than the person knows about himself. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think the RSA allegations can hold a candle to some of what Google has done. I mean, what would you think if the NSA sent out vans to collect data about people's home Wi-Fi networks? Google actually did that. It also found a way to learn your home Wi-Fi password. And it can track your every movement. Google's ability to compromise individual privacy certainly rivals the NSA's ability, if it doesn't outstrip it. OK, this particular boycotter might have had nothing to do with any of these invasions of privacy by Google. Sort of the way the folks who run the RSA Conference had nothing to do with the agreement between RSA and the NSA eight years ago.

I could have named that boycotter who works at Google, but I didn't, and I won't name any of the other boycotters. Why? Because I strongly suspect that the lure of getting attention has a lot to do with much of this boycott nonsense.

I'll give the folks from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU who pulled out a pass on this. Their actions are consistent with their overall positions. But in many other cases, the grandstanding is pretty obvious.

Take the guy who runs a conference dedicated to bringing together the intelligence community and industry. Most of the speakers at that conference are former employees of intelligence agencies, who might have easily engaged in activities similar to those currently being protested. As you might expect, this guy was called a hypocrite on Twitter for sponsoring such events while protesting NSA involvement with RSA. He took the accusation as an opportunity to make a pitch for having his events coincide with BSides. For his current conference, he put out tweets advertising that he would be further speaking about his RSA boycott. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.


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