Why Condoleezza Rice joining Dropbox board isn't a Mozilla moment

Internet protesters are at it again, using an online petition and Twitter to lobby Dropbox to drop newly-announced Condoleezza Rice from its board.

On Dropbox’s blog, where CEO Drew Houston announced Rice’s appointment this week, there are more than 400 comments debating the pros and cons of her appointment. Some are coming to her defense but others are pledging to  switch to competing Dropbox services.

But this isn’t the Return of Mozilla.

Adding Rice was likely a bit of overreaching on the part of Houston, getting a “name” for his board. But it’s not an uncommon move, as we wrote this week, and is just the latest in a series of Silicon Valley-Washington ties.

Of course, it is notable because Dropbox was listed as “Coming Soon” in the Prism files about companies whose services the government had been tapping. Dropbox has been outspoken about the government’s surveillance program, something that Rice was involved in during her government roles.

Michael Masnick at Techdirt said Dropbox’s appointment was “tone deaf” and may be a huge “public relations disaster.” As it expands internationally, Dropbox needs someone with less baggage, he said.

The Wall Street Journal says Dropbox has run afoul of Silicon Valley orthodoxy and references Mozilla, where the firm’s chief executive resigned over a donation to an anti-gay marriage proposition. In a column, I argued that Brendan Eich, the chief executive in question, should have said more about his position.

Clearly, some people feel strongly about Rice and her appointment, as this tweet shows:

But Rice and Dropbox shouldn’t face the same pressure as Eich and Mozilla did.

First, she’s a board member, not the face of the company.

Second, if you care about privacy, surveillance and governments, as Dropbox does, it makes sense to bring in someone who not only knows that world but may have unique expertise.

Third, her duty is to Dropbox users and shareholders, not to the the U.S. government. If she does her job, she will watch out for Dropbox’s interests and perhaps push the firm to do more to protect its users’ privacy. If she doesn’t do her job, shareholders can vote her out (once the company goes public) or sue.

Dropbox may decide the noise around Rice’s appointment is too much and indeed drop her. This is a case where people should debate, sure, but also trust the company’s decision.

Above: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a press conference in 2007.  (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Michelle Quinn Michelle Quinn (212 Posts)

Michelle Quinn is a Business Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Prior to her current role, she was the Silicon Valley correspondent at Politico covering tech policy and politics. She has also covered the tech industry at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. She was a blogger for the New York Times.