TechDirt has a story calling Dropbox “tone-deaf” for adding Condoleezza Rice to their board of directors, given that she played a central role in creating the surveillance state that we now find ourselves in. (Yesterday Ed Bott said the same on Twitter. I argued with him. A more detailed version of the argument follows.)
Tone-deaf is an interesting idea. Literally it means that someone can’t carry a tune. Using it as a metaphor for a company, I think they’re saying they have an integrity issue. Dropbox seems to be a company we can trust to fight the government on our behalf. Hiring Rice seems contrary to that and to the interests of its users. They aren’t what they say they are, therefore they’re tone-deaf.
But it’s only tone-deaf if you were expecting a different tune. I think it’s refreshingly honest and open. It tells the users that it’s very important for Dropbox to have a way to communicate with governments at a very high level. Someone has to rep the company at meetings that are now taking place regularly where new rules are being created to govern the Internet. Private rules that we may not know anything about.
The net never was as open and liberal as it seemed to us. That’s what we learned from Snowden’s leaks. Every large tech company is quickly becoming part of the governmental structure of the world. Eric Schmidt, for example, travels with a former aide to the US Secretary of State. I’m sure at times when he meets with world leaders he’s carrying messages for our government and vice versa.
That’s the reality. Dropbox could have tried to hide it from users, but they chose not to. That appears to be in harmony with other tech companies. We may not like the song they’re singing, but it’s not tone-deaf.