In a sector supposedly untroubled by political retirees, Dropbox’s courting of Condoleezza Rice, one of the most influential statesmen in the Bush administration, was always likely to cause a fuss.
As Secretary of State, Rice oversaw the foreign affairs of the US at a difficult time, even by the dubious standards of American politics. Most controversially she played a part in justifying the Iraq War to the American public, approved torture techniques and defended Bush’s wiretapping of US citizens, perhaps even authorising it.
Enter Drop Dropbox, a campaign that threatens to boycott the cloud firm if they do not remove Rice from their board. "Given everything we now know about the US’ warrantless surveillance program, and Rice’s role in it," the website rages. "Why on earth would we want someone like her involved with Dropbox, an organization we are trusting with our most important business and personal data?"
No doubt some will throw their weight behind the campaign because of hatred for the Bush administration, the wiretapping concerns a convenient excuse. Yet this confrontation is sure to be repeated as more of yesterday’s start-ups become today’s big business – those in the boardroom with blemished moral records will only become more frequent as profits rise.
As the hand-wringing against Mozilla’s fleeting CEO Brendan Eich showed, there are certain lines the geeks don’t want you to cross.But a moment’s reflection should lead to the conclusion that every board will have a member who supports campaigns you dislike, spends money on things you disapprove of and think thoughts you find despicable.
Where does one draw the line? Conservatism? Opposition to gay marriage? Neoliberal economics? Surely every policy one disagrees with is one you believe causes harm to somebody. How much harm is enough? How large does the disagreement have to be? And who has the time to vet every one of the hundreds of products each of us use?
Perhaps Rice, like Eich before her, will be forced to step back in the wake of commercial pressure. But technology has never been morally pure, and the more power it wields the uglier things will become.