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Why Edward Snowden thinks Amazon is “morally irresponsible.”

15 December 2014

From the Washington Post blog, The Switch:

Edward Snowden on Friday evening called on Amazon.com, one of the world’s largest retailers, to provide routine encryption for its customers to prevent governments from snooping on the reading habits of their citizens.

Snowden, appearing by video link at a surveillance symposium at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, called Amazon’s practice of allowing customers to browse for books and other goods without encryption “morally irresponsible.”

. . . .

Amazon, whose founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, encrypts transactions as customers enter their credit card information and other purchase details. But searches for products occur in what experts call “plain text,” meaning governments and others with access to Internet traffic can monitor those searches. That includes Internet providers, employers when people use computers at work, or even coffee shops and hotels hosting wifi networks.

. . . .

“Wherever you’re at, wherever that jurisdiction is, they can see what books you’re looking at,” Snowden said on a giant video screen at the Cato Institute’s headquarters in downtown Washington. “This is morally irresponsible, and as a business it’s problematic to allow this to continue when we know for a fact that they have the capability to provide for secure communications because as soon as you go to purchase that book, as soon as money’s involved, they turn it over to encryption.”

He added, “Let’s encrypt your browsing habits. Let’s encrypt the world’s library.”

Link to the rest at The Switch


36 Comments to “Why Edward Snowden thinks Amazon is “morally irresponsible.””

  1. Pot meet kettle. *headdesk*

    • Say WHAT? *boggle*

      • One party who did not think through the consequences of his actions accusing another party of not thinking through the consequences of their actions. On a Monday morning, that kind of doubletalk makes my head hurt.

        I agree with Christopher B. Wright below that Amazon is leaving themselves open to a multitude of problems by not encrypting all traffic. But I’m living in a small town now where I am spied on and commented about constantly on everything, from what I wear to what I buy. My experience makes Snowden’s fears about the government look like a freaking cakewalk.

        • “My experience makes Snowden’s fears about the government look like a freaking cakewalk.”


        • Suzan my time in small towns made me weirder. Because screw ’em, conformity is boring and immoral. 🙂

          • I just hide in my Batcave(TM) and write R-rated books with lots of violence and sex, Uncle Jo. It keeps me calm.

          • Yeah, living in a small town does make for some interesting times when you don’t do “normal” like most other folks.

            Doesn’t help that we live on a main street, that nearly everyone in town drives down on a daily basis. We can’t do jack without someone stopping us in the grocery store to remark upon it, from working on our house to having packages delivered.

            Small towns are weird. Very weird. But they make great settings for stories! =)

    • In other news, Leviathan has just declared Amazon “both legendary and dangerous.”

  2. Actually, I think he has a good point.

    Google, Facebook, and Apple have been using routine encryption for all traffic for years now.

    I don’t know why Amazon hasn’t followed suit.

  3. I don’t disagree with him. It points out a flaw to primarily reading electronically. You have no privacy.

  4. Mr. Snowden is absolutely correct. All other other big tech companies (Google, Facebook, M$, Apple) understand the risk and encrypt traffic to protect their customers.

  5. I can agree that the content should be encrypted.

    Fundamentally, though, I don’t think that it is much of a protection against a government who could no doubt require Amazon to store books purchased and reveal it to national intelligence agencies.

    Google already reveals searches to police, even though it’s an encrypted site. It actively reports people accessing child abuse images, for example. I’m not against that as such.

    It’s just that the reality is that encryption isn’t much of a defense against a government that wants to find out information about you.

  6. I don’t care if the government wants to know what I’m reading. Let them snoop to their heart’s content.

    • People in some countries would probably disagree with that. 🙂

      • Yes, and it depends: whose government? The U.S. is not the only country that spies on people, as much as some people would like to single it out for opprobrium.

        I have no fear on my own account, since I am solitary, poor, and therefore effectively immune to blackmail. But I quite understand why other people ought to be concerned about this.

        • French here, I can’t agree with Patricia. Not that I fear anything from our current government, but I hope we learned a lesson 80 years ago (I refer to 1933), as governments can change, democratically as in Germany, or not (as in France and so many other countries).

          • Well, I can see Turkey and Hungary cracking down on journalists and writers right now – they would sure love to use Amazon search / buying data to implicate them. And let’s not even talk about Russia, Iran or China.

            States can turn oppressive shockingly fast. And then any data can be used against you.

            I think Snowdon has a point.

            • Absolutely.
              On the Other Hand, I also shiver at the thought of books ciphered/locked for the use of a single individual, with a centralization of “clean copies”, as it would also ease massive censure.

  7. There’s suspicions that the NSA has been pressuring or bribing encryption companies to install backdoors anyway.

    • Oh, I have no doubt. I’m not sure it would be easy to do this kind of thing. Encryption is always a matter of time, not access. Even a basic laptop could crack any encryption out there… eventually. If the NSA wanted access, they have the resources to get through. Assuming they didn’t just hack either Amazon’s servers or the end user devices as a shortcut.

  8. There must be a lot of people with reason to be ashamed of their browsing habits.

    • I’m not ashamed of looking up movie times on my laptop and seeing Interstellar yesterday. What I don’t care for are holier-than-thou comments ranging from “Sci-fi isn’t quality movie material” to “Christopher Nolan is just trying to be a pretentious Oscar nominee” from people who love the sound of their own opinion, which is the only reason they saying anything to me. However, if you want to talk themes and imagery, I’m all for it!

      P.S. Excellent movie BTW! Matt Damon does bat-crap crazy very well.

    • There probably are many who are ashamed of their browsing habits. There probably are also many who have no shame, but do not choose to share their lives with others.

      We see how Facebook posts have derailed employment hopes. Someone with different standards read them and they tipped the scales against a candidate.

      Note the current mess with Universal Studios. I doubt those people were ashamed of their private correspondence. They thought it was indeed private.

      An individual’s personal shame has little to do with the utility of the information for an enemy or someone with different standards.

  9. I think it’d be in Amazon’s best interests to use SSL across their site. SSL encrypted sites rank higher in Google. They have done for the last few months when Google rolled out one of their many recent algorithm updates.

    Right now, you get a ranking boost in Google Search for your site if you have SSL across all pages on the site, which is Google’s incentive to make webmasters change over to secure websites. I’m not sure how long the ranking boost will last for, but my ranking shot up after I went full SSL on it.

    If Amazon wants to keep the #1 ranking spot in Google, they need to use SSL across their entire site. I’m surprised they’re dragging their heels. It’s not good for their online visibility.

    • If Google want to misrepresent the popularity of websites by artificially boosting those that use a particular security method, that’s Google’s problem. In the long run, it will make their search engine less valuable to users, and give other search engines an opportunity to supplant it. (We are already seeing faint signs of this with services like DuckDuckGo.)

      If Amazon want to keep the #1 ranking on Google (assuming that they even care), the most straightforward and productive way to do it is to keep their business growing, so they will get more traffic on their site, more hits, and more links from other sites. Artificially goosing their Google ranking is a bad reason to adopt SSL or anything else.

      If using SSL for everything will help their security, that is a good reason for using it. But then, Amazon is in the businesses of cloud computing, ecommerce hosting, and many others requiring advanced security. If they aren’t using SSL for particular tasks, I have reason to suspect it is because they are using something better, probably proprietary.

      • Google’s search engine provides users with the most suitable websites based on their content above all else. However, I don’t see how secure websites will turn users away in droves. I don’t know many web surfers who want to visit unsecure websites.

        Google’s algorithm favours the most relevant content, the best coded sites, the sites that are the most secure, the sites that are the most active in both community and content updates. It frowns upon spam, paid links and criminal activity. Basically, it analyzes and provides searchers with the best possible content.

        If we’re talking about artificial boosting in search, then let me direct you to Amazon search… the land of random ranking. I love it when the also boughts on a romance novel direct me to a book about taking the perfect dump because it’s a ‘bestseller’. It’s not irritating at all.

        I’d assume that Amazon care since they pay for Adwords ranking and compete quite fiercely for the top spots in all areas. In PPC and organic search, Amazon work very hard to rank high in Google, hence my comment.

        Your post is a bit like reading an advert for SEO in 2005. I was at the SES conference in 2007, and I got to see Matt Cutts live, which was quite exciting. It’s nice to follow a myth, but times have changed since then, so has SEO and SEM.

  10. Because his fifteen minutes are checks watch yep, just about up?

    • He’s stuck in Russia and winter is here.
      In both the russian and westeros senses.
      He’s probably trying to rebrand himself ala Mitnick so he can get out before it all hits the fan.

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