SAN FRANCISCO -- MIT Technology Review Digital Summit -- Evernote CEO Phil Libin got laughed at when he said government surveillance could be a solved problem in the next year or two, because government needs to respond to the people's will.
"I actually don't think the government surveillance problem is going to be a major problem," Libin said. "I think that is solvable in the next year or two, just because we should just decide as a society what we want the government to do, and then the government should do that."
The audience during a Q&A with Libin laughed cynically at this point.
"I know that sounds like a crazy West Coast thing," Libin said, as the laughter continued. "I spent seven years of my life doing work for the government, in government systems, in Boston and in DC, and so I know it sounds less realistic there. But that is actually how it works. I think the problem is we don't have a consensus as to what the government ought to be doing. First we have to establish a consensus."
Business data use represents a greater threat to privacy than government surveillance, Libin said. Ad networks are the vectors most exploitable by malware, hackers, and government spying.
Still, data collection has many highly moral uses. For example, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) can use search patterns to accurately track flu epidemics. "That's great, and there's totally a guy at Google working on that. And there's 10,000 people working on the problem of how to get you to click on more ads," Libin said. The advertising business model for data tracking swamps out other, more beneficial applications.
Advertising has more problems than just security and privacy, Libin said.
"I'm biased because I just don't like advertising in general," Libin said. Even so, he said, the advertising business model doesn't scale to mobile, wearable, or the Internet of things.
"Let's say I'm working on my big desktop computer at home," Libin said. "I have a big monitor, and my average session length on my computer at home is two hours. So if I'm sitting there for two hours with two 30-inch monitors, how many pixels a minute am I willing to allocate to advertising? Maybe a little bit.
"But when I'm on my phone, I'm only using it for two minutes at a time, and my screen is only four inches, how much time and pixels am I willing to give to advertising? Almost none, which is why advertising in mobile is really thorny.
"But then when I move from the phone to my eyes, things are getting beamed directly into my retina, and my active engagement time is a second and a half. How much time am I willing to give to advertising? Really; really none at all."
Evernote Corp. 's business model is that revenue comes from individual and corporate subscriptions. "We make money right now. We have this really old-fashioned business model; we only make money from you when you decide to pay us," Libin quipped. Evernote also sells physical products, such as wallets, briefcases, and notebooks, in conjunction with partners.