2013 was a troubling year for technology. Tech companies got hit repeatedly by the Snowden disclosures, which made both the U.S. administration and tech company CEOs seem like liars. Not because either was necessary lying, but because the NSA was acting without notification or approval in most cases. This suggests the need for a powerful lobbying effort, supported by most technology vendors, focused on assuring the U.S. government doesn’t inadvertently destroy the U.S. technology market. Something that would have seemed ridiculous this time last year now, with the latest frightening stories, seems all too possible. Even Apple is far from immune.
Let’s talk about this as we enter the New Year.
Killing the U.S. Tech Market
It is somewhat ironic that China was often rumored to be doing this for much of last decade, even though no evidence of the Chinese government putting malware on any enterprise product was ever discovered. This rumor was perpetuated by western companies and governments in order to assure that Chinese products couldn’t get a foothold and it worked well. However, that set a foundation of distrust and created a methodology that then could be used by others. Be aware that during this process the Chinese vendors unilaterally said that their products weren’t compromised but few others believed them and sales growth was curtailed.
Now jump ahead to 2013. The Snowden disclosures have showcased that the U.S. administration has been untruthful in what it was doing and knew about, and have implicated almost every major U.S. technology vendor by name. This is so comprehensive and the list of compromised companies has expanded so significantly that even unmentioned vendors are likely being rolled up into the same group in some cases. Basically, the market is concluding that there are two types of U.S. technology companies: those that we know have been penetrated by the NSA and those that are penetrated but haven’t been mentioned yet.
The market has already demonstrated that it can punish vendors on an unsubstantiated rumor of compromise and it will ignore any vendor claims to the contrary. Those rules may now apply to U.S. vendors who find themselves in the same unfortunate position the Chinese vendors did.
However, regardless of which group is under attack, this isn’t good for the industry in general. Buyers need to be able to trust the vendors they use. If they can’t, they are likely to move to a build-it-yourself model like Google did. While component manufacturers could likely survive and even prosper in such a market, those building systems could be killed and much of the value, income and profit come from systems, not individual parts.
More importantly, this trend would put IT solidly in the technology manufacturing business. The skills needed to make this change don’t exist broadly enough to support this kind of a market move, not to mention, the loss in economies of scale would increase dramatically IT costs just to stay even. No one really benefits long term in a market ruled by distrust.
Wrapping Up: Joe Tucci and Fixing the Problem
This brings to mind a talk I heard from EMC CEO Joe Tucci a few months back. He anticipated this issue and argued that tech executives needed to get more involved in government to assure the market. His remedy for this problem was well founded because it is sourced in a mentality in government that is putting U.S. government and U.S. business at cross purposes, to the detriment of both. This suggests a major effort by a collective of U.S. technology companies, combined with the most powerful IT organizations, focused on motivating the government to stop behaving stupidly. This won’t happen by itself and also suggests a cross-company effort that includes security companies to both identify and eliminate efforts to compromise technology products by any government and to report the government attempting this publicly for citizen support.
Only by a large comprehensive effort will behavior like that reported of the NSA be corrected. You have to believe that if the NSA is doing this, foreign intelligence organizations are doing this as well. It’s time to take the technology market back before government foolishness destroys it.
If we don’t push back, things are certainly going to get worse.