Google Takes Its Anti-NSA-Spying Show on the Road

Photographer: Vincent Yu/AP Photo
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, speaks during a session with students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on Nov. 4, 2013.

Google executives flew to Finland, Hong Kong and Turkey to demonstrate, in various public appearances today, that it's not a shill for U.S. spying.

In interviews in Hong Kong, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt repeatedly expressed "outrage" at the prospect of the National Security Agency pillaging its user data.

"I was shocked that the NSA would do this — perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission,” Schmidt told CNN. And to the Wall Street Journal, he said: "It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers if that’s true.”

In the whole Edward Snowden-sparked spying debacle, Google has played the victim. The company has said it doesn’t cooperate with the NSA and would like to be more transparent about requests from secret government courts.

"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in an e-mailed statement. "We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform."

This isn't strictly about morals. Governments and international businesses are becoming big buyers of the kind of cloud services Google sells. A lack of trust could slow their transitions to the cloud or push them toward providers based outside the U.S. That could add up to as much as $35 billion in lost revenue over the next three years for the industry in the U.S., according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

That makes clearing its name an international imperative for Google. Vint Cerf, a Google vice president and Internet forefather, spoke in Istanbul today before a scheduled meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Cerf told reporters there that Google has no agreements with intelligence agencies to share information, according to my colleague Ercan Ersoy.

In Finland, the spying stuff was less overt. Google held a news conference today in Hamina, about 90 miles east of Helsinki, to say it plans to spend more than 450 million euros ($608 million) to expand its data center there. Google has spent at least 350 million euros on the project already. The search giant has six data centers in the U.S. and seven outside the country, according to a company website. (It doesn’t have one in Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff is pushing legislators to require Google to establish a local data center. The closest one is in Chile.)

As Bloomberg’s Kasper Viita reported from the event in Hamina, Google gets a stable Finnish electricity grid and frigid Nordic weather to keep its servers naturally cool. Another benefit: Data stored in Finland would be regulated under the European Union’s data-protection rules — and far from the prying eyes of U.S. spies.

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