When Dropbox CEO Drew Houston announced on Wednesday that the company had appointed Condoleezza Rice, former US secretary of State, to its board of directors, he might have expected some skepticism.
Calling Dr. Rice “brilliant” and her career “illustrious,” Mr. Houston seemed to hedge against possible blowback in an online post in which he said that she was an ideal candidate to help shepherd an expansion of the cloud storage platform's “global footprint.” Rice is now a professor at Stanford, as well as a consultant to several tech firms.
But, on Friday, techies were not having it.
On a website set up soon afterward, called Drop Dropbox, critics alleged that Rice’s record of support for positions to which Silicon Valley is largely opposed suggests that Dropbox is not serious about its claim to resist online government surveillance.
Drop Dropbox faults a number of Rice’s past activities in the Bush administration, including her role in planning the Iraq war, her alleged support for the use of torture in interrogating Al Qaeda suspects, and government wiretapping without a warrant.
Rice’s appointment “invites serious concerns about Drew Houston and the senior leadership at Dropbox's commitment to freedom, openness, and ethics,” reads the website. “When a company quite literally has access to all of your data, ethics become more than a fun thought experiment."
It was not clear on Friday who was behind Drop Dropbox, since the site is hosted on a domain whose proxy is hidden, according to TechCrunch.
A link to Drop Dropbox, which encourages users to stop using the service, is the most-clicked-on posting on Hacker News, a news source popular with the technologically savvy, according to Wired. A separate website hosted at Causes.com includes a petition to boycott Dropbox and had amassed more than 6,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
Support for a boycott was also trending on Twitter via the hashtag #DropDropbox.
Almost all the comments on the original posting about Rice’s appointment, among other announcements about new Dropbox features, were about Rice, with comments divided on whether she was an asset or liability to Dropbox.
How much the public relations flap could hurt Dropbox, a bona fide juggernaut of the cloud storage world, with more than 275 million users, is not yet clear.
The zeitgeist of Silicon Valley has lately been highly public opposition to online government surveillance, and technology companies have been at pains to reassure the public that their data will be secure with them. In March, Dropbox released a formal list of its principles on government data requests, including a promise to fight blanket government requests for its information and a commitment to publicizing the number of such requests it receives.
“Governments should never install backdoors into online services or compromise infrastructure to obtain user data,” reads one of the principles. “We’ll continue to work to protect our systems and to change laws to make it clear that this type of activity is illegal.”
Consumers have no shortage of options for where to put their data if one platform falls short on such pledges, including Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Those alternatives, among others, are listed on the website Drop Dropbox.
Last week, Mozilla bowed to pressure to boot its new chief executive, Brendan Eich, over his financial contributions to an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in California in 2008.
Dropbox has not made a public statement on the calls to drop Rice.