This morning’s Observer column
‘It’s an ill bird,” runs the adage, “that fouls its own nest.” Cue the US National Security Agency (NSA), which, we now know, has been busily doing this for quite a while. As the Edward Snowden revelations tumbled out, the scale of the fouling slowly began to dawn on us.
Outside of the United States, for example, people suddenly began to have doubts about the wisdom of entrusting their confidential data to cloud services operated by American companies on American soil. As Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice president responsible for digital affairs, put it in a speech on 4 July: “If businesses or governments think they might be spied on, they will have less reason to trust the cloud and it will be cloud providers who ultimately miss out. Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets, if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes? Front or back door – it doesn’t matter – any smart person doesn’t want the information shared at all. Customers will act rationally and providers will miss out on a great opportunity.”
Which providers? Why, the big US internet companies that have hitherto dominated the market for cloud services – a market set to double in size to $200bn (£126bn) over the next three years. So the first own goal scored by the NSA was to undermine an industry that many people had regarded as the next big thing in corporate computing.