Cloudflare CEO on “sensible” tech regulation, “creepy” web experiences

Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony this week has put a spotlight on the debate over how much tech companies should protect your data. Lawmakers grilled the Facebook CEO for about 10 hours over the course of two days in a hearing prompted by the exposure of millions of users’ data to third parties.

Cloudflare is a global service that offers protection from hackers and faster speeds to more than seven million websites, serving more web traffic than Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Instagram, Bing and Wikipedia combined. The company is out with a new product aimed at consumers that it says will make it more difficult for businesses to track your internet activity and speed up your overall service online.   

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince told “CBS This Morning” the hearings highlighted just how little consumers understand about how they are being tracked online.

“Cloudflare’s core service is to make the internet faster and safer for anyone who’s trying to put any sort of content or service online. What we announced recently with our new service – which is a lot of ones – is that we can help consumers protect a little bit of their data from leaking to ISPs and other businesses that might be tracking them on the internet,” Prince said.

He also drew a distinction between tech companies who sell products or services and companies who sell you, the user, to other parties. According to Prince, because Cloudflare’s business model is predicated on making sure the internet was protected from hackers, the idea of selling customer data never aligned with what they do.

“Technology isn’t inherently about compromising privacy or protecting privacy. It really depends on what the tech company’s business model is,” he said. “So it’s not easy enough to say tech is pro- or anti-privacy. I think you have to look at it on a company-by-company basis.”  

Because online tracking can be really helpful in pinpointing what users are interested in, Prince believes it’s a little less about privacy and more about consumers having control over what data is being captured. 

“They want to be able to say this is my data. I understand who I’m giving it to. Sometimes when I give that data to them….A service can provide a better experience to me. But I don’t want it to feel — it’s creepy when, you know, the handbag that you’re looking at online or the pair of shoes starting following you around the internet and we’ve all had that experience,” he said. 

While the tech industry has long shunned and largely avoided government interference, the Cambridge Analytica scandal – which revealed that some 87 million Facebook users’ data may have been misused to influence the 2016 presidential election – has prompted a new discussion around how to regulate Silicon Valley. Prince said he supports regulation so long as it’s “sensible.”

“What’s tough is whenever there’s new technology that comes along, whether that was the telephone, or television, or now the internet. It takes a while for social norms and understandings to develop and once you have those, you can start to put together regulations,” he said. “And so I think that a lot of the tech industry would actually, you know, welcome what was really sensible….because we’re tech users ourselves and it creeps me out when my data is flowing across the internet.”

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