Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was in Tokyo yesterday to deliver a keynote speech at the New Economy Summit 2014 (NES). His talk focused on data privacy in the age of the Internet and cloud computing, opening with a scathing criticism of former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Let me start with two words: Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden tells us that our government is collecting enormous amounts of information about us. Specifically, they’re keeping track of every time we use the telephone and we call somebody. No one’s saying the government records our phone conversations. […] What the government does keep is a record that at 9:30 this morning I called someone at Oracle Japan.
Snowden said we should all be very worried. Well, first of all, Edward Snowden leaves the democracy of the United States of America, and he goes to a place — a bastion of free speech (smiles). He goes to Moscow.
Ellison assured the audience of tech industry insiders, investors, and Japanese bureaucrats that keeping data private is “not a technology issue at all.”
“If you want us to keep all of your personal information private, we know how to do that. We can encrypt everything on the wire,” he said. “We can guarantee that nobody will be able to spy on you. Because you live in a democracy, you the people get to decide if that’s what you want.”
He then tried to ease worries about the potential for the misuse of personal data, pointing out that Snowden had yet to identify a single person who had been “wrongly injured” by the NSA’s data collection.
Ellison pointed to fire as a “fabulous technology” that could potentially be misused, with the story of a caveman discovering fire and using it for cooking, warmth, and to scare predators away. But another caveman insists that fire is dangerous: it can burn us and we must ban it.
“We shouldn’t ban the gathering of data because it might be misused,” he emphasized.
‘Anxious to share’
Ellison then zeroed in on the main point of his speech: that we are already willing to share our personal data without the intrusion of government or external forces.
“I believe that you are anxious to share the most intimate details of your life in exchange for something you value,” he said, citing credit card applications as an example.
Ellison also said that people would likely volunteer to share their health records, and even their DNA, in order to create a database for finding the most effective treatment options based on what worked for other people with similar genome characteristics.
By sharing your personal data, there are enormous benefits both to you individually and to the society as a whole.
Ellison’s roots in Japan
The Oracle CEO later sat down with Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani, the summit’s Representative Director, to talk about his early career in Japan, working for Fujitsu and Hitachi (he actually played center field on the Hitachi baseball team), and how the country molded him into a world-class entrepreneur.
“One thing you learn in Japan is you learn how to work,” Ellison said. “I was used to working very, very long hours… It was good training for an entrepreneur because I don’t care how smart you are, being an entrepreneur is a lot of hours and a lot of hard work.”
He ended the discussion by sharing his love for Japanese gardens — “the most beautiful artform I have ever seen — and telling the audience that he looked forward to taking the shinkansen (bullet train) to his home in Kyoto at the end of the summit.