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SAN FRANCISCO - A privacy panel including Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Mozilla was among the most heated sessions of last year's RSA Security conference. In 2014 the same panel, which included privacy officers from Google, Microsoft and Intel Security, was not nearly as contentious – although Alex Fowler, chief privacy officer at Mozilla, declined to participate, citing concerns over allegations concerning RSA's involvement with the National Security Agency.
Even without Fowler's involvement, the NSA was top of mind.
Brendon Lynch, chief privacy officer at Microsoft, said security is now seen as a privacy issue. To that end, Microsoft has challenged itself to be more transparent. Only a small fraction of Microsoft customers have been impacted by U.S. government requests for information, Lynch noted.
"The impact is less than one percent," he said. "We do not allow unfettered access, and we have never had a request for bulk collection of data."
Keith Enright senior corporate counsel, Privacy at Google, agreed with Lynch that more transparency is the key.
"Only through transparency can we have real accountability," he said, adding that Google will continue to keep pushing for legislative reform and more transparency. "Our business is tied to user trust and this issue has a significant impact on user trust."
Simply agreeing to use a Web-based service like those offered by Google does not imply a necessary privacy compromise, Enright said, adding that privacy is about managing user expectations.
"If services are appropriately designed then I don't think there is a net loss of privacy," he said. "In fact there is a net benefit to privacy."
Michelle Dennedy, vice president, chief privacy officer at Intel Security, has a similar view on privacy and transparency. "Privacy is not synonymous with secrecy," she said.
In a technology context, she defined privacy as the fair and honest process of personal data.
"You are not giving up your privacy when you choose to communicate with another person," Dennedy said. "Corporate greed protects privacy, since we want our customers to stick with us and trust us."
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eSecurityPlanet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.