Dropbox announced on its blog yesterday that they’re “growing their leadership” by bringing Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State for the Bush Administration, onto their Board of Directors.
Many in the tech world are calling it a serious misstep, and a slew of headlines are quick to remind us that she is a “wiretapping advocate,” “Iraq War cheerleader” and “surveillance and torture fan.”
This misses the point — or at least the bigger picture.
The logic behind their shock and alarm goes something like this: Dropbox says they want to expand internationally, so they grabbed a politician with a deep foreign affairs background… but did you know that Condoleeza Rice actually authorized NSA spying? How can we trust Dropbox’s security claims now? Dropbox is compromised — there’s a spy in their midst!
Condoleeza Rice to join Dropbox board? Bold move NSA! Err, I mean bold move Dropbox!—
Miguel de Icaza (@migueldeicaza) April 09, 2014
Adding Condi Rice to the Dropbox board might be the most tone-deaf move by a big Silicon Valley company in as long as I can remember.—
Ed Bott (@edbott) April 09, 2014
Let’s take a step back.
The real reason Ms. Rice was brought on board likely has a lot to do with what Dropbox said in the first place: global expansion.
Competition is heating up between cloud storage services, and Dropbox is building up their enterprise products and opening new offices in their quest to win the business community.
“We’re seeing well over 100 percent growth across businesses both small and large, and 97 percent of the Fortune 500 are using our products,” Ross Piper, VP of Enterprise Strategy for Dropbox, told Betabeat last month.
Dropbox Making a Play For the Business Community
Last month, Dropbox announced their intention to open up New York City offices in order to pursue enterprise clients among rumors of an impending IPO. Read our coverage here.
But if going global is the next step for Dropbox, they’re going to need serious damage control before bringing in international clients.The NSA revelations have hurt confidence in American services for international governments and businesses — the president himself has admitted as much.
The fact is that there’s a major lack of trust in American storage, and Betabeat has spoken privately with financial technology firms who have spent months migrating their products away from American cloud services for skittish international clients.
Bringing Ms. Rice on board gives the Dropbox a team member with deep insights into government surveillance. Ms. Rice is a symbolic asset, giving Dropbox the clout only an insider can provide. Assurances about privacy and security hit harder when coming from a former Secretary of State than from any sales representative.
Ms. Rice is the perfect player to help take Dropbox overseas, for the same qualities that have everyone crying foul.
Additionally, Dropbox is rumored to be chasing its rival cloud storage company Box toward an IPO, with Dropbox’s latest valuation at $10 billion. As Bloomberg reports, Wall Street is increasingly skittish about tech IPOs, and having a conservative government figurehead on board could go a long way in convincing early investors that Dropbox is a safe store of capital.
Dropbox’s alliance with Ms. Rice isn’t sinister, naive, “tone deaf” or even strange.
It’s actually just good business.