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Why Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker rejects conventional wisdom on data and privacy

Why Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker rejects conventional wisdom on data and privacy
[Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

During last night’s 22nd annual Webby Awards, Mitchell Baker, chairwoman and co-founder of Mozilla, took home a lifetime achievement award for “decades of leadership at Mozilla and for serving as a fierce champion of open source and the free and open web.”

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As the fight for net neutrality continues to play out, the renewed conversation around how user data is obtained, and what it’s used for, also feeds into Mozilla’s overall mission to improve the health of the internet.

The EU is instituted a new law this month aimed at protecting user privacy and severely punishing companies like Facebook or Google should they breach regulation. And stateside, a trio in California is pushing for similar regulation through a ballot initiative that already seems to have substantial support.

Baker spoke with Fast Company backstage at the Webbys to give her thoughts on how she sees this fight for data playing out.

“I see two paths: One is that it fades–we’ve had a high point and then we all go back to the rest of our lives and wait for another crisis or trauma to actually get to real action,” she says. “But the optimistic [path] is that we start to understand that these sort of abstract, arcane, technically complex things have a real meaning in life. And it starts to become real that we’re not opening our wallet to pay directly, but there’s a cost.”

What web giants have argued is that in order for their services to remain free, profiting from user data is required. Reportedly, major web and telecom companies have banded together–and are pooling a considerable amount of money–to fight against the ballot initiative in California.

“These systems are so profitable and the executives at these companies so unbelievably wealthy because there is a value exchange happening. We have to develop an understanding of that because it’s new to most of us,” Baker says. “I’m hopeful as that becomes clearer, we as citizens and consumers can say that’s not good enough–that’s not the right value exchange.”

“When there is a time to raise your voice and say, ‘this is not right’–do it,” Baker continues. “It’s hard to see the impact of that, but I can say, for my life in tech, it does have an impact. The conventional wisdom is that privacy doesn’t sell. The wisdom is suck up all the data you can get it and it won’t matter if you get found out. Consumers can change that.”

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