Mega CEO: Should ISPs be privacy crusaders?

08 Jul 13

Do New Zealanders care enough about their privacy to make it worthwhile for an ISP to be a privacy crusader?

That's the million-dollar question from Mega CEO Vikram Kumar, who following submissions on the Telco Spying Bill, believes telcos should protect their own business interests.

"I was somewhat miffed that submissions from Telecom and Vodafone (who account for the vast majority of Internet connections) on the Telco Spying Bill did not call for protecting the privacy of their customers from government’s intrusive and ubiquitous surveillance plans," wrote Kumar, on his online blog Internet Ganesha.

"Both submissions before the Law and Order Committee last week were essentially about protecting their business interests.

"Then it struck me that it was exactly the right perspective for them to take."

The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill has been widely opposed by New Zealand telcos, with even Google joining the list.

The bill is proposing changes to the existing legislation by which telcos are required to act on warrants to intercept customer communications, while also containing new provisions requiring telcos to consult with government on network security matters relating to new network infrastructure.

U-Turn

But why did Kumar, appointed CEO of Mega earlier this year, do a u-turn on this issue?

"If ISPs develop a position on one issue, such as protecting customers from excessive government surveillance, it becomes a slippery slope," he wrote.

"People and government will then expect them to take a position on the whole range of content flowing over their networks.

"This leads to making ISPs responsible as gatekeepers of all online content and activities accessed by their customers, something that is clearly undesirable."

Questioning whether there is no competitive differentiator in being a privacy crusader, at least in New Zealand, Kumar concludes:

"People talk about a desire for greater online privacy but, in economic terms, it is not ‘demand’, i.e. people are unwilling to use their money to switch to an ISP that positions itself as a privacy crusader.

"And so perhaps the question might not be ‘Should ISPs be privacy crusaders?’ but ‘Do New Zealanders care enough about their privacy to make it worthwhile for an ISP to be a privacy crusader?"

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