I hate Verizon so much that when the neighborhood recently got wired for FIOS, I actually kept my more-expensive Comcast! They keep sending reps to my house because I'm the only one on the block who hasn't signed up. Another one showed up yesterday, and we had a chat from my bedroom window about how Verizon handed over customer info to the NSA without warrants, and also about this. So today I read this, and I just have to laugh. Because it there's anything that's bound to make a successful tech site, it's forbidding the writers to talk about the hottest topic in tech: government surveillance!
Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?
The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.
There's just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.
Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies.
The first revelation from Edward Snowden's leaks showed that Verizon gave the National Security Agency (NSA) all of its customers' phone records. Later leaks showed that virtually every other major phone and credit card company in America was doing the same thing.
Verizon has been snarled in U.S. government surveillance for years. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USA Today reported, Verizon gave the NSA landline phone records without customer consent or a warrant. Just this week, it was revealed that Verizon is tracking all of its wireless customers movement throughout the Web.
Verizon has also led the charge to kill net neutrality\u2014the principle that Internet service providers, like Verizon, should treat all Internet traffic equally\u2014earning its place as the most vocal, aggressive, and well-funded opponent the so-called open Internet movement faces.
Curiously, Verizon's self-censorship applies only to surveillance conducted by the United States. SugarString reporters are allowed to write, and have already written about, spying in other countries. Chinese surveillance, for instance, is fair game, as made evident in this article about anonymizing hardware, which mentions Chinese dissidents who risk their lives against state surveillance.
News of Verizon's publishing venture and its strict rules first came to light to multiple reporters through recruiting emails sent last week by author and reporter Cole Stryker, who is now the editor-in-chief of SugarString. (Stryker has also previously contributed to the Daily Dot.) I was one of the reporters who received that email. The premise and rules behind the site were explained to me in a series of messages throughout the day. I declined the job offer.
Other reporters, who asked not to be named, have confirmed that they have received the same recruiting pitch with the same rules: No articles about surveillance or net neutrality.