There was controversy during the recent Amsterdam Privacy Week, as the conference on privacy included some sponsors that many people called into question.
Among the sponsors for the event were Google, Facebook and Palantir, which is a technology company funded by the CIA that the Pentagon uses to investigate terrorists.
For an event focused on protecting the privacy of individuals, these aren’t exactly the choicest sponsors.
The controversy began when privacy activist Aral Balkan went on Twitter to say that having these companies offer sponsorship for this event was hypocritical. Others agreed with Balkan.
Google and Facebook are known for offering targeted advertising. Many people consider this to be a form of corporate surveillance.
Meanwhile, Palantir uses data analytics to monitor terrorist activities, but in reality, the company could monitor anyone. The company has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union in the past.
Some people even compared these companies sponsoring a privacy event to cigarette company Marlboro sponsoring an event on lung cancer awareness.
Others stated that by taking money from these companies, they influenced the discussions and topics that would take place at the event, in a form of “institutional corruption”.
This isn’t the only privacy event to have a series of questionable sponsors. The 2016 Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference also has Palantir as a sponsor, and the International Association of Privacy Professionals includes corporations such as Google, Microsoft and AT&T. Again, not exactly the most privacy-friendly companies.
While some people argued that these companies make valuable contributions to these events, and that the corporations aren’t necessarily opposed to the idea of privacy, Balkan still feels that it is hypocritical.
Balkan recently wrote, “Corporations like Facebook and Google are in the business of people farming. The value they create is directly linked to the amount of information they have about you. So the one thing they cannot do is to compete on privacy. They can only compete on the illusion of privacy. And that’s the narrative that they are spending heavily to create."
However, the executive director for a privacy rights organization called Access Now, Brett Solomon, disagreed, stating that it is necessary to have the corporations most relevant to the matter involved in the discussions.
Solomon said, “When you're dealing with issues around privacy and freedom of expression, you have to have the relevant stakeholders around the table, otherwise it's purely academic.”
While both sides have their points, it’s hard not to think of it as kind of unusual to have companies known for intruding on the privacy of their users represent an event dedicated to curbing such behavior.
The organizing committee for Amsterdam Privacy Week declined to comment on the matter.