Earlier this week, the cloud-enabled file storage provider Dropbox named Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors. Normally, these kinds of appointments don’t merit much attention — unless it offers an opportunity for the outrage industry. In this case, as with the outrage over Brendan Eich’s short-lived promotion at Mozilla, the politics of the new hire has created a demand for a reversal of the decision:
The file-sharing startup Wednesday added former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a director to “help us expand our global footprint.”
Quickly, an Internet protest sprang up to encourage Dropbox users to boycott the service unless the San Francisco startup forces her off its board. A new website, “Drop Dropbox,” said Rice’s role in helping set U.S. policies in Iraq, and in promoting U.S. intelligence agencies’’ surveillance policies, made her a poor fit for a startup that “we are trusting with our most important business and personal data.”
Dropbox declined to comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for Rice, now a professor at Stanford University, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A post about the Dropbox petition on Hacker News, a popular website for Valley tech types, had about 900 comments as of 4 p.m. PT Thursday. Topsy, which tracks keywords used on social-media services, said there were nearly 3,000 Twitter posts in the past day using the “DropDropbox” hashtag – about as many mentions on Twitter as Crimea.
Many of the posts were critical of Dropbox’s alliance with Rice, but others said the protesters were unfairly bullying people who support Rice or share her political views.
Truth Revolt’s Jeff Dunetz notes that the thought police have been active as of late, even apart from Mozilla:
The leftist thought police have been very active lately, for example, efforts by Google and others to reach out to conservatives also have provoked criticism. Last year some Silicon Valley backers of FWD.us, an organization established by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other tech executives to push for immigration overhaul, pulled out of the group in part over FWD.us’s support of conservative politicians. And of course, there is the ever-expanding effort to ban any objections to the global warming theory.
True, and Jeff’s closer to the mark than the Mozilla analogy. This is a little different than both, and the Rice issue at Dropbox is both more substantial and less significant than Mozilla or the examples Jeff cites.
First, Brendan Eich was not a politician or a former political appointee. Until his one donation to Proposition 8 was exposed, Eich didn’t operate as a political activist at all, and certainly not in connection to his work at Mozilla. Moreover, Eich pledged to respect diversity at Mozilla and no one has ever produced any evidence that he acted in any other way during his long tenure at the firm as CTO. The witch hunt against Eich was truly a thought-police action. When companies go out of their way to get into politics, such as with FWD.us, they had better be prepared to deal with the rebuttals and anger that their actions might create with customers — as Mozilla itself learned this month.
The situation with Rice is different in several ways. For one, Rice won’t have any executive authority on her own as a board member, although she can certainly influence Dropbox’s strategies. Furthermore, Rice got invited onto the board due to her notoriety that mainly stems from her public career in politics, including her support of very controversial policies regarding the Iraq war, interrogation, and the PATRIOT Act issues that eventually came into play with the NSA scandal from last year. That certainly relates to the Internet industry in which Rice will work as a Dropbox board member in a much more direct way than Zuckerberg’s immigration-reform activism did at Facebook, and certainly more than Eich’s six-year-old contribution did at Mozilla.
That doesn’t mean that Rice should get hounded out of the position Dropbox offered her, of course. It’s possible to disagree on these points and still be effective as a board member, and perhaps it even helps in dealing with the diverse opinions that Dropbox customers (I am one myself) have on these subjects. But the anger over her selection is a lot more rational than what we saw at Mozilla, and Dropbox should have anticipated it when they made Rice the offer. Let’s hope they stand firm for diversity of thought rather than cave to momentary outrage.
Update: There is a pushback against the pushback — link is here, for those interested.