Essays on Technology and Culture

Some Thoughts on Dropbox, Privacy, and Dr. Rice

It’s a weird time to be a Dropbox user. They just announced some really awesome new features and apps, got geeks super excited, and then announced that former Bush Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is joining the board. Less than 24 hours after the wave of excitement over Carousel and Mailbox for Mac, a Drop Dropbox movement began. They also make some very good points that resonate with my borderline Bleeding-Heart Liberalism—especially her support of torture and domestic spying. And I’m not happy about it.

If only it were easy to leave. Dropbox had integrated itself so firmly into how I run my online life that I can’t see how to go without it. Everything I write is stored in Dropbox. I have scripts and services that connect and dump data into Dropbox. I share files with friends over Dropbox. Half of all the apps on my iPhone connect to Dropbox to store data. Not only is Mailbox my iOS email client of choice, I only signed on to Mailbox affer they were purchased by Dropbox. Why? Because I trust them.

Yes, Dropbox had security lapses. They were responsive and fixed things quickly. Yes, Dropbox is part of PRISM, but as with all technology companies implicated in NSA spying, I chalk it up to coercion. Men with guns can be very persuasive. Yes, Dropbox had been doing DMCA takedowns of content on people’s accounts, but again, men with guns can be persuasive. There is precious little Dropbox has done that is offensive or dangerous to me that they had a choice to do otherwise. Until now.

What can I do? There is no other solution that is quite as robust for doing what I use Dropbox for, with the level of integration in the apps I live in, and is even half as compelling. The best options are Google Drive, and I’m wary of giving Google more data, and iCloud which doesn’t work how I work. Box has no app support. There’s no way I could afford to set up my own private cloud, either. It’s Dropbox, or go back to the dark ages before I could expect to have all my data in one place. The only real option is to hold my nose.

Thankfully, the John Siracusa gave an even-handed breakdown of the real effects of Dr. Rice’s role on the board on the latest Accidental Tech Podcast. In short: “The NSA already has all your data.” I’m not worried about the NSA having access to my Dropbox files. This is more akin to the flap over ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. I found his political views on homosexuality as abhorrent as I find Rice’s views on privacy and war. However I didn’t uninstall Firefox over it. The idea never crossed my mind, largely because I don’t use Firefox anymore. Unless Eich ordered his team to add filters blocking LGBT content—which is unlikely—his bigotry wasn’t going to affect the product. I doubt Dr. Rice’s views will affect the product.

It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m hoping the backlash hits critical mass and that Dropbox repents. Their recent statement says they’re standing by Dr. Rice, but it will take time and more high profile people leaving the service. For the time being, I’ll stay, but if anyone knows of an option for replacing Dropbox that has the same level of compatibility on iOS, I would love to hear about it.