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Snowden: Dropbox is 'hostile to privacy,' cloud needs zero knowledge

updated 01:45 pm EDT, Mon July 21, 2014

NSA whistleblower points to board member, companies should have no access to data

In an interview with UK newspaper The Guardian last week, fugitive American whistleblower Edward Snowden made it clear that he opposed cloud companies that had access to user data. He specifically pointed out Dropbox as being "hostile to privacy" for a number of reasons, including a board appointment of an ex-government official with ties to suspected privacy violations.

"Dropbox is a targeted, you know, wannabe PRISM partner," said Snowden.

Snowden accused Dropbox of hiring "the most anti-privacy official you can imagine" in former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The storage company hired Rice to its board of directors in April. He claims that Rice was one of the people tasked with overseeing the "Stellar Wind" government spying project. Stellar Wind was an NSA program that collected emails, Internet usage, telephone calls and financial transactions on United States citizens for close to 10 years after the events of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

According to Snowden, this makes Dropbox a company that's "hostile to privacy." However, it is unclear if Rice has any connection to the creation or administration of privacy policies for the cloud storage company, though her appointment has stirred user outrage. Dropbox defended its appointment of Rice in an open letter on its website. The company stated that they were honored to have Rice join the board, as well as indicated that nothing would change. A Dropbox spokesperson issued a statement to PC World on Snowden's claims, stating that the company supports the privacy of its users.

"Safeguarding our users' information is a top priority at Dropbox," said the statement. "We were not involved in PRISM, and would resist any program of its kind. We've made a commitment in our privacy policy to resist broad government requests, and are fighting to change laws so that fundamental privacy protections are in place for users around the world. To keep our users informed, we also disclose government requests in our transparency report."

Outside of his larger issues with Dropbox, Snowden suggests that cloud companies should shift to a policy of zero knowledge when it comes to the data they store. This sort of system would see data hosted and processed, but never accessed by the host company. He adds that by completely removing themselves from the manipulation, analysis and reading of the information, customers would gain trust in cloud hosting companies.

Snowden points to SpiderOak, a small tech company from Illinois founded in 2006, as a company that follows the zero knowledge approach. While other storage companies have added in-transit and at rest encryption, SpiderOak allows users to encrypt data before sending it to the company servers. The company claims that it holds no readable passwords or other data.

"SpiderOak has structured their system in such a way you can store all of your information on them with the same sort of features that Dropbox does, but they literally had have no access to the content," said Snowden. "So while they can be compelled to turn it over, the law enforcement agencies still have to go to a judge and get a warrant to actually get your encryption key from you."

by MacNN Staff



  1. ph0ust

    Senior User

    Joined: 02-04-03

    Condoleeza Rice on the board seems shockingly stupid. I used to use Spider Oak years ago. I recall it was generally ok/good. I've been using younity the last year or two though and find it more useful.

  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    Condoleeza Rice is basically a war criminal, so the very fact that she is on the board is a super good reason for not using Dropbox.

  1. TheGreatButcher

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 06-11-00

    Who made Snowden the supreme expert on everything Internet?

  1. YangZone

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 05-24-00

    @TheGreatButcher He is a qualified expert on his chosen subject: privacy. His experience at the CIA is certainly a qualification.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    The fact that Dropbox continue to support the Rice appointment in spite of the quite significant amount of business they've lost as a result tells you everything you need to know about it: they did that for government connections, and do not care about customer concerns. Which suits me fine, as I want nothing to do with them.

  1. jpellino

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-29-99

    Dear Mr. Snowden, You're in Russia with a lot of time on your hands. Given your stance on evil governments misusing technology to hurt people and then covering things up, how about you dig into Russia's cyberstuff and find out who supplied the missile / fired the missile that took down MH17? Cuz a lot of people think they did it and are covering it up. Seems right up your alley - Thanks!

  1. glideslope

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: 03-15-02

    Ed, your a Dead Man Walking.

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    Interestingly, it was revealed a few weeks ago that the NSA specifically has a program to put pro-NSA/anti-Snowden/anti-privacy stories and comments on websites. I wonder why they bother, what with all the idiots like TheGreatButcher and glideslope out there doing their work for them...

  1. ryanjo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-22-01

    Here's a guy who helped the NSA steal data, then stole their data, who suddenly preaches to us on who we should trust. Yeah, Ed, you're everyone's hero. Go back to kissing Putin's a**.

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