Dropping Dropbox: The choices we make

[This is something like the studio cut of my original Leaving Dropbox piece.]

While I’m generally a pleasant enough fellow—kind to small children, animals, and restaurant staff—I do have one obvious failing: When there’s righteousness to be had, I glom onto it like a half-price toaster on Black Friday. My family and friends have learned to put up with it with a gentle rolling of the eyes, but in my professional life it’s still a bit dicey as I catch the occasional “There he goes again” vibe from colleagues and readers.

For example, just around four years ago I chose to sever my relationship with Facebook. You’re welcome to read the details, but my opinion at the time was that the company had a cynical disregard for its users’ privacy. When there was an opportunity to obscure changes to its privacy policies, make it more difficult to not share your life with the rest of the world, and generally treat the details of your life like so much spare change it had found under the couch, the company seized it with both hands and asked for more. Nothing Facebook has done since has convinced me that the company has gained the slightest shred of respect for the privacy of its users.

More recently I’ve chosen to abandon Dropbox, the cloud-based file-sharing service. And, as with Facebook, my leaving is about philosophy rather than service. In fact, many of my workflows depend on Dropbox—particularly when moving files between my computer and mobile devices and sharing large files with friends and colleagues. Heck, I like the service so much that I purchased a Pro plan to gain additional storage.

But I’ve now asked Dropbox to cancel my account and refund the cost of the remaining plan.


Former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom Dropbox has recently appointed to its board.

I have views regarding Ms. Rice’s tenure at the White House, none of them positive. It’s my belief that her actions and the actions of those around her during those years represent one of the most shameful periods in recent American history. I have heard arguments that laud her as a hero. I disagree with them, naturally, but understand why they might be made.

What concerns me more than the objection to lining Ms. Rice’s pocket with a single cent of my money is the wisdom of Dropbox’s management team. Apart from the former Secretary’s actions during the Iraq war, she was on the scene when the Bush Administration implemented domestic spying programs. Given the kind of work Dropbox does and how touchy people are about the security of their data, why on earth would you appoint someone to your board who has so little apparent regard for personal rights and privacy?

I understand that Dropbox would like broader international outreach and Ms. Rice certainly has the appropriate credentials (though I wouldn’t expect much help from her in the Middle East market). But surely there are available ex-politicos with a solid foreign policy record who don’t carry the baggage of torture and warmongering.

And so I’m gone.

But to the broader point. Regardless of your political and moral persuasions, it may be time for more of us to let our consciences come to the fore and give in a little less to the temptations of convenience and free. Many of the services we enjoy—Facebook, Google, Dropbox, GoDaddy, and others—speak directly to the cheapskate within. For nary a nickel you can connect with old friends and new, research a subject from soup to nuts, store a couple of gigabytes of files in the cloud, and register a domain name for next to nothing. And it’s all free, free, (nearly) free!

Except, of course, it isn’t. Your personal information is what makes Facebook and Google go ’round. Dropbox’s free plan is just constrained enough that the company hopes to convert many of its users to paid plans (and it may see some benefit in getting into the email and image-sharing business, which is valuable stuff in the data-mining racket). And the money you pour into GoDaddy has been used to fund the CEO’s elephant hunting exploits.

And this plays to all philosophies. If you object to someone like Al Gore being on Apple’s board, switch to Android. If you think Apple’s green tech policies are a waste of money, do as Tim Cook suggests and get out of the stock (and stop buying its products). If Bill Maher drives you crazy, forego Game of Thrones.

In short, move over and let your convictions drive for awhile. It may require more of your time to find alternatives, it may demand more work to complete a workflow, it may even force you to give up services you find attractive. But, as a consequence, you may sleep better for it.