Condoleezza Rice seems an odd choice for Dropbox, a company whose future success depends upon its users believing their data is secure and safe from prying eyes.
Few people evoke a visceral reaction as intense as the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The mere mention of her name has led to screaming matches, vigorous debates and unsolicited condemnation. An example of this is the recent uproar online over Rice joining the board of directors for San Francisco-based Dropbox.
Dropbox is a cloud-based file-hosting service that allows users to set up and synchronize separate computers so that the content of shared folders can be seen and shared by all of the connected computers. In its six years of existence, the company has grown to the point that it now boasts more than 275 million users, is responsible for 0.29 percent of worldwide Internet traffic and has a valuation of $10 billion, according to BlackRock Funding.
As Dropbox prepares to move into business products and to take on Google and Microsoft, the company has moved to shore up its leadership team. Besides adding Rice to the previously-three member board of directors, Dropbox also hired a chief operating officer. Rice, who is a partner with the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates and served as Dropbox’s management advisor for the last year, was brought on to help guide the company on issues of international expansion and privacy.
Since Dropbox announced Rice’s joining of the board of directors, websites, such as Drop-Dropbox, have attempted to point out the seeming contradictions of Rice’s appointment and Dropbox’s role as a personal content storage provider. Beyond Rice’s role in the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, her participation in selling the now-debunked “weapons of mass destruction” rationale to the American public and her involvement in the creation of the prisoner “enhanced interrogation” program, many feel that Rice’s support of the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program makes Rice a poor choice to be Dropbox’s privacy expert.
In 2005, Rice appeared on Fox News Sunday to defend the wiretapping program by saying that the president has authorized the National Security Agency “to collect information on a limited number of people with connections to al Qaeda.” Recent disclosures leaked by Edward Snowden have shown that the NSA grossly exceeded this “limited number of people” in regards to the range of its surveillance — a fact that evidence suggests Rice knew about. As early as 2003, as national security adviser, Rice authorized the NSA to wiretap the home and office telephones of members of the United Nations Security Council and to monitor private email accounts at the bequest of George W. Bush to ascertain how the vote on a U.N. resolution toward authorizing military action against Iraq would turn out.
“Condoleezza Rice could have resigned from the Bush Administration if she believed these actions — all of which she was deeply involved with — were wrong,” Drop-Dropbox asserts. “She did not. It’s naive to believe she was simply going along with orders and was powerless to speak out or resign.”
“Until 1982, Rice was a registered Democrat and voted for Jimmy Carter. Shortly thereafter, she changed her party affiliation because ‘in part because she disagreed with the foreign policy of [the president].’ To deny her agency over her own actions is to dismiss her own intelligence and history,” continued Drop-Dropbox.
The Dropbox board also has two other RiceHadleyGates partners as members — Stephen Hadley, Rice’s successor as national security advisor, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. While the inclusion of so many members of the George W. Bush administration on the Dropbox board may not mean that there will be a collapse of the company’s image, it does make the company seem tone deaf.
With Dropbox’s CEO Drew Houston speaking out against the NSA’s unwarranted spying in January and with Dropbox changing its privacy policies to reflect the growing NSA scandal, the retention of Rice, Hadley and Gates may be enough to suggest to users that Dropbox is not serious about security and privacy.
As many former up-and-coming web services know, all it takes for the “next big thing” to flop is one lapse in customer trust. It is too early to guess if Dropbox will be able to overcome the baggage Rice has brought with her.