Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has told TechDigest that he will go “ballistic” if the NSA try to gain backdoor access into The People’s Operator, the new mobile phone network that it has just been announced Wales will become co-chair of.
Speaking at the DLD14 conference in Munich, Wales announced his new career move – taking time away from Wikipedia to help grow The People’s Operator, a charity-focused mobile phone network that launched in the UK at the end of 2012. What makes TPO different to the likes of Vodafone, O2 and EE is that the company promise to give 25% of profits to charity – with a guaranteed 10% of each customer bill also going to good causes.
Wales has previously spoken out in support of NSA whistleblowing Edward Snowden, calling him a “hero” – which is particularly interesting now that Wales is co-chair of a company in which privacy and security is going to be important, and one that he has been brought on board to help grow internationally, including in the US. Asked by us what he’d do if the NSA came and asked him for backdoor access, Wales said:
“I would go ballistic so at all I wouldn’t do that, but no, as a virtual – so an MVNO – mobile virtual network operator so we partner with the people with infrastructure, so we have limited control over that aspect of things. However, we want to set best practices in the industry for privacy, data security and y’know, in whatever roles/influence I have either as a public person who opines on these issues, or in this role I would definitely say I’ll campaign for our partners to say they should also be practicing the best practices. So, we definitely want to be a shining light in this area but I can’t promise total control of the whole pipeline”.
Wales explained to us that he was first attracted to the business by the fact that it both has a business model and a charitable motive – two things that don’t often come together. Asked why a mobile operator is a good vehicle for fundraising, Wales replied:
“Its a huge industry with a huge number of subscribers, and a lot of money flowing through” – rather than spend on a marketing budget, the plan is rely on word of mouth and goodwill of the customers. The cash that would go on advertising can then be spent on good causes instead.
To manufacture this goodwill, Wales referred to needing a “rock solid offering”, including good customer services – which will be music to the ears of anyone who has ever had to phone their mobile operator.
You can hear the whole interview here:
So it’s interesting times ahead for Wales – and it’ll be interesting to see if the new announcement leads to East London’s People’s Operator gaining more traction. Here’s hoping he’ll be about marshall the other operators into caring more about privacy issues too.