Mark Zuckerberg calls Obama to complain about NSA

March 14, 2014: 6:26 PM ET
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called President Obama to tell him the latest NSA disclosures are frustrating.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called President Obama on Wednesday night to express frustration about the government's spying and hacking programs.

"When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we're protecting you against criminals, not our own government," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon.

It may seem disingenuous for the leader of a giant tech company that makes money based on your personal information to point an angry finger at government surveillance. But Zuckerberg's complaint is specifically aimed at one thing: hacking.

His concerns are based on the latest investigative report from The Intercept, which revealed that the National Security Agency has weaponized the Internet, making it possible to inject bad software into innocent peoples' computers en masse. Put simply, using the QUANTUM program, the NSA can sneak into someone's Web browser.

The report is based on documents provided by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Related story: Tech companies reveal scope of secret data requests

Zuckerberg took to Facebook (FB) to decry the tactic, saying it runs counter to the company's attempts to protect its users. He noted that Facebook encrypts users' communications, uses secure software and encourages people to use safer sign-in procedures.

"The U.S. government should be the champion for the Internet, not a threat," Zuckerberg wrote. "They need to be much more transparent about what they're doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.

Zuckerberg said he called President Obama to express his frustration. But he said he's not holding out hope for a quick change.

"Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform," he concluded.

White House officials acknowledged Obama and Zuckerberg spoke, but did not divulge details about the conversation. The administration pointed to an NSA statement denying the accusations.

"NSA does not use its technical capabilities to impersonate U.S. company websites," the agency said. "Nor does NSA target any user of global Internet services without appropriate legal authority. Reports of indiscriminate computer exploitation operations are simply false."

This episode is the latest in a litany of sobering reports showing how government surveillance of innocent Americans and foreigners has surpassed expectations. First came reports about mass collection of phone call and emails. Then came the NSA's attack on encryption and physical tracking via smartphone data. Then came news the British GCHQ spy agency taps into Yahoo video chats of innocent, everyday people.

Snowden: It was worth it

But this latest revelation is different. It's about weakening the security of the Internet itself. In Wired, security researcher Nicholas Weaver explained why the NSA's QUANTUM program -- which is used to deliver cyber attacks -- is a dangerous idea.

"The NSA does not have a monopoly on the technology, and their widespread use acts as implicit permission to others, both nation-state and criminal," he explained.

But if the overarching topic here is privacy, the public might dismiss Zuckerberg's complaints as being hypocritical. Facebook has long been criticized for its lack of transparency when it comes to how it collects and monetizes user data. To better target advertising in your direction, Facebook tracks all your activity and partners with data brokers -- companies that engage in mass collection of data, much like the NSA. And no one knows what these companies do with that data -- or who they sell it to.

It's the price of keeping certain online services free. On Facebook, you're the product and advertising clients are the customers. When it comes to what data is collected, how it's used and where it's sold, there's little oversight and no transparency.

The spat between tech giants and the NSA has now come full circle. The Wall Street Journal recently noted how former NSA deputy director John C. Inglis called out tech companies for not being transparent about how they collect the public's data.

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