Before Eva Galperin took on the tech visionaries of Silicon Valley, she was one of them.
After finishing her degree at San Francisco State University, she spent several years as an IT and security employee for various companies in the valley. She describes her experience and mindset during that time as one of naivete, believing like many others that the internet and tech revolution “was going to be a force for good” that “was going to raise up the voices of people who were normally unheard and…be a great advantage for vulnerable populations.”
Today, as wave after wave of intrusive technologies hoover up the personal data of consumers in American abroad and the term “surveillance capitalism” has entered the mainstream lexicon, she reflects on that early naivete, saying it can provide a valuable lesson for tech executives and Congress today.
“I’d love to disavow it, claim that I was a cynic the whole time…and that I saw this coming, but I didn’t,” said Galperin. “I absolutely didn’t, and I think it’s really important for the people who are currently making policy and making decisions about security not just to change their views but admit when they were wrong. I think that’s especially important because so much about this idea of leadership is also about vision and infallibility and we’re all fallible and rewriting history so that we were right all along is just disingenuous and stops us from learning.”
Few in tech have learned their lesson better than Galperin. In 2007 she joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit dedicated to digital privacy and civil liberties issues. She heads up EFF’s Threat Lab, which researches how facial recognition, spyware and other surveillance tools are used to target marginalized groups in the U.S. and abroad, and her work has touched on many of the most high-profile surveillance policy issues in government and industry.
Now EFF’s director of cybersecurity, Galperin’s most recent work involves taking down the “stalkerware” industry. Unsurprisingly, stalkerware – software that allows someone to surreptitiously monitor your phone or computer – has morphed into a popular tool for domestic abusers to keep tabs on their victims. Galperin has successfully pushed antivirus companies to treat the tools as malware, sought to reinforce and strengthen social stigmas around the tech industry’s selling and marketing of invasive surveillance tools for bad actors and called for companies to face possible criminal charges for selling software that hacks into user devices.
She said the tech industry will continue to make the same mistakes repeatedly until it starts welcoming in underrepresented groups and give them meaningful input into the way their products are designed, marketed and sold.
“I want to live in a world where if your products don’t work for women, if they don’t protect people in LGBT communities, if they don’t work for darker skin, your products will not make it to market. That this will be considered not working, that working for the majority is not good enough,” Galperin said.