Michael Arrington’s Disrupt NSA crusade ends with mixed results

So Michael Arrington’s NSA inquisition at TechCrunch Disrupt has wrapped up and we really don’t know any more than we did before it started.

But that’s not the point. The point is that for days, Arrington kept the topic front and center, including by quizzing some tech royalty, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, whose companies apparently have cooperated with the super-nosey government spy agency.

TechCrunch, the blog that Arrington founded, has done us all a service by posting a highlight reel of Arrington (and others) asking subjects uncomfortable questions about why they aren’t doing anything to put a stop to government snooping.

The thing is, these folks at Disrupt often are the smartest person in the room and they’re not going to say anything that harms their companies — meaning they’re not going to say anything interesting.

Sure, Zuckerberg had the money quote, “Frankly, I think the government blew it,” but he didn’t really address what role Facebook played in the whole scandal or what the company was doing about it now.

And Mayer explained that Yahoo couldn’t be more forthcoming about how it dishes on its customers because that would be “treason.” The word treason got a lot of people worked into a lather. Would it really be treason? Etc. Etc.

I’ll admit, it got my attention when she said you can go to jail for treason. You sure can, I thought; in fact you can be shot for treason. Kind of hard to imagine the U.S. government executing a high-tech exec, especially with all that campaign-contribution potential, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, I wrote last week that I’d be rooting for Arrington in his pursuit of details on the NSA scandal. And I’m not turning on him now. No one should be surprised that the folks he interviewed were less than forthcoming.

These are private people (well, until it comes to our e-mail, web searches and social media posts), after all, and people who are extremely cautious and image conscious when it comes to what they say in public.

Folks like Zuckerberg and Mayer are very stingy about granting interviews. The less they say, the better, as far as their handlers are concerned. And so when someone like Arrington gets a chance to ask a few questions, we should applaud him for asking some that are uncomfortable.

So, I say thanks to Arrington for keeping the conversation going, even if it seems it might not be going anywhere in particular.

(Photo of Marissa Mayer at TechCrunch Disrupt last week by Mercury News photographer Dai Sugano)



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