A month ago when German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed that Europe create its own version of the Internet that wouldn’t flow through servers in the United States, therefore evading the prying eyes of the National Security Agency, the idea didn’t seem particularly serious. After all, the United States built the Internet. Look at any list of the most-trafficked sites, and you’ll find most of them are American, with a couple of Chinese ones thrown in (the latter is to be expected, given that they have twice as many Internet users as we have people). Trying to start your own Internet just seems ridiculous. But now, the ripple effects of NSA spying on the tech economy are starting to become apparent, as the New York Times reports:
SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft has lost customers, including the government of Brazil.
IBM is spending more than a billion dollars to build data centers overseas to reassure foreign customers that their information is safe from prying eyes in the United States government.
And tech companies abroad, from Europe to South America, say they are gaining customers that are shunning United States providers, suspicious because of the revelations by Edward J. Snowden that tied these providers to the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance program.
Just how much business is leaving U.S. shores? One analyst quoted in the story says it could be $35 billion. And for the sky-is-falling perspective: “Forrester Research, a technology research firm, said the losses could be as high as $180 billion, or 25 percent of industry revenue, based on the size of the cloud computing, web hosting and outsourcing markets and the worst case for damages.” Okay, so that sounds a little crazy. But this shows that being the undisputed global hegemon has its pluses and minuses.
From here at the top of the mountain, it seems only proper that everyone in the world should speak our language, use our products, become immersed in our pop culture and live with the implications of our policy choices. But from elsewhere, that can sometimes seem like a raw deal. If you live in Spain or Singapore, you’re probably happy that Hollywood produces such fine entertainment products. But the idea that you’re going to have your e-mail read and your phone calls recorded because of fears that have nothing to do with you and your country can seem awfully unfair. So if you have the power to circumvent the hegemon — say by using a local cloud service instead of Amazon’s — right about now that could be looking like a more attractive option.
But something tells me that the NSA is going to find a way to spy on that stuff, too.