Reddit's $50M funding round highlights the tech industry's hypocritical privacy views
Reddit announced yesterday that it has closed a $50 million funding round from investors like Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Peter Thiel, and Sequoia Capital's Alfred Lin. (A number of Pando investors, including Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz, also participated in the round.) And, according to VentureBeat, all of these investors are fine with the way the site handled the people who shared images taken from numerous celebrities' personal accounts.
The funding round was first reported by Re/code in the beginning of September, and at the time, Pando's David Holmes questioned the morality of investing in the company because it didn't delete the subreddit dedicated to the nude photo leaks out of some sense of justice -- it deleted the subreddit because some users were continually reposting copyrighted materials:
Like in the controversy over the well-funded anonymity app Secret, which until recently did little to curb bullying, investors should be held responsible for the ethical implications, and not just the profit margins, of the companies they fund. And while Reddit likes to describe itself as a “government” or a “city-state,” funding rounds like the one reported today prove that it’s still a business. That’s why it’s up to investors, as much as it’s up to users, to pressure Reddit to do the right thing.Apparently many of the investors involved with this latest round don't particularly care about the ethical implications of funding a site that allows its users to share nude images stolen from someone's private online accounts. As Reddit CEO Yishin Wong told VentureBeat during an interview about the round in response to allegations that Reddit had deleted the nude photo subreddit in an effort to appease venture capitalists who might have objected to its contents:
[T]he two just aren’t related. Fundraising cycles are much longer than nude celebrity-photo cycles, and the two happened to overlap. We handled the two independently, just like we made statements around other events. If anything, I spoke with our investors before doing the final term sheet signing and told them 'Hey, this thing is going on, and we are going to handle it the way we always handle things. Here’s a chance to back out if you want,' and they all stayed in. It was a nice chance to make sure they were really on board with how we do things.It would have been one thing for these investors to have failed to remove their money from this round based on the nude photo leaks because the ink had already dried. But if Wong is speaking the truth, these investors were offered the opportunity to show one of the world's most visible sites that there needs to be a balance between protecting free speech and respecting someone's right to privacy, and they decided that it would be better to invest in the company anyway.
Even if there's no room for idealism in venture capitalism or the technology industry in general, it's still mortifying to see that an increasingly important part of the United States -- and the rest of the world, really -- doesn't care about something as basic as making sure women who take nude photos in the comforts of their own home aren't exploited by anonymous Internet users who care more about getting their rocks off than affording another person some basic privacy.
I wonder if these investors would have reacted the same way if it was their personal photos being shared around one of the Web's most popular websites instead of celebrity photos. I also think it's morbidly funny -- yet wholly unsurprising -- that the tech industry, which has fought so hard against government surveillance, cares so little about preserving celebrity privacy. As I wrote in regard to the hypocrisy of some Bitcoin fetishists and Reddit users a few weeks ago:
The message is clear, whether it’s conveyed by people who want to preserve their own anonymity by using a cryptocurrency while auctioning off someone else’s personal information, or by those who defend their right to privacy and then share images stolen from people whose own privacy has now been torn to shreds: my privacy is important, but your privacy is nothing.