Cooperation or co-option? Intersectoral partnerships between privacy advocates and tech companies

Till Wascher

How do privacy activists see the role that online companies play in the surveillant assemblage and how does it influence their campaigning and political communication? The first two major protest events in the aftermath of Snowden’s leaks, “Restore the Fourth” and “Stop Watching Us,” focused on government spying and largely ignored the involvement of corporate actors – although, as PRISM leaks detailed, the massive amount of personal data collected by Google, Facebook, and others had eventually landed in the hands of the government.

The latter half of the first post-Snowden year, in the form of two online protest events, “The Day We Fight Back” and “Reset the Net,” saw varied attempts to address the data gathering practices of online companies, though these were carried out differently than one might have imagined. Instead of outright opposing corporate surveillance, privacy activist networks sought to include companies in their campaigns and formed temporary coalitions with them.

While aligning with corporate players like Google helped the campaigns generate a critical mass and relatively wide coverage in the media, arguably the companies have benefitted more from this partnership than the privacy advocacy community. Based on interviews with a wide array of activists, two lines of argumentations emerged about the relationship between corporations and the activist community.  One stressed the necessity to uphold a constant dialogue with the companies rather than to alienate them, ensuring good and professional relations and the possibility to create change by making use of that relationship. On the other hand, some activists were deeply disturbed by the ties between some activist organizations and corporate actors, fearing that it would ultimately undermine their core message… Click here to read more.