Al Gore To Nashville Tech Conference: The Internet Has A ‘Stalker Economy’

Al Gore speaks to Sarah Lacy, founder of Pando Daily, about Internet surveillance, Uber and Edward Snowden. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Al Gore speaks to Sarah Lacy, founder of Pando Daily, about Internet surveillance, Uber and Edward Snowden. Credit: Emily Siner / WPLN

Former Vice President Al Gore criticized both the federal government and companies for collecting too much information from the Internet. He  was speaking Tuesday at Southland, a conference of tech entrepreneurs in Nashville.

Al Gore’s career has taken him from Tennessee — where he began as a U.S. congressman and senator — to Washington to Silicon Valley. He’s now on the board of directors at Apple and previously sat on Google’s board.

The former politician praised the Internet as a powerful tool for society. But he said organizations collecting data on how we communicate are a serious threat to democracy, whether it’s the NSA or a private business.

“Governments, that’s one threat. But businesses are also collecting way more information than they should,” he told Sarah Lacy, founder of the tech news site Pando Daily. “We now have a stalker economy, where customers become products.”

“But why are people not more outraged about this?” Lacy said. “I am way more scared of everything Google knows about me than what the government knows about me.”

“Here’s the answer to your question,” Gore said. “Every time we, collectively, have had a choice between convenience and privacy-slash-security, we’ve chosen convenience.”

While Google may have been criticized at that point in the conversation, Gore later said he wants to see Google Fiber throughout Tennessee.


Other Conversation Highlights:

  • On whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor: “I don’t put him in either of those categories, but I’ll be candid. … If you set up a spectrum, I’d push it more away from the traitor side, and I’ll tell you why. He clearly violated the law, … but what he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the United States constitution that were way more serious than the crimes that he committed.”
  • On money in politics: “I’m an optimist, where the potential of the Internet is discussed as a way of restoring democracy. Our democracy has been hacked in the United States. It really has been hacked. The operating system has been taken over, and it no longer serves the purposes our founders intended it to serve. … When I went to the Congress, I didn’t spend any time raising money — maybe $100,000 in the entire campaign. But now, the average member of Congress has to spend five hours a day, on average, begging rich people for money.”
  • On the shortcomings of capitalism: “After the Berlin Wall came down and communism collapsed, … [some people] began to say, ‘Wait a minute, capitalism’s good, it can over some of the decisions that have been made in democracy. And in some areas, that makes some sense. But in other areas, it does not. There are public goods. Education is not going to be adequately provided by the public sector. Public transportation is another example, health care.”
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