China is the promised land for our revenue-challenged tech heroes: 1.2 billion consumers, economic growth several times that of the US, and companies splurging on IT. Layer the “cloud” on top, and China is corporate nirvana: a high-growth sector in a high-growth country. Or was nirvana, now that the NSA’s hyperactive spying practices have spilled out.
Cisco CEO Chambers gushed with positive vibes during the earnings call: “unbelievably strong results,” he said about the quarter. He talked about record revenues. “We have strong momentum,” he said, “very solid execution.” But he lowered guidance, lamented the debacles in China and Japan, and announced layoffs. Then he uttered the word “lumpy.”
“According to intelligence officials,” who remained unnamed, the NSA is not just looking at meta-data when Americans send emails and texts overseas, as the government had proclaimed when the scandal first broke, but is actually searching the content, however steamy it might be.
The cloud is a growth industry. And a religion in Silicon Valley: you’re better off with all your data and software stored in a data center somewhere on the planet. It’s a beacon of growth that revenue-challenged global tech giants like Oracle and IBM wave in the faces of antsy investors. But now, they’re going to pay a steep price for their cooperation with the NSA.
“The largest espionage scandal in the 21st century is shaking Germany,” wrote Peer Steinbrück, the man who’s desperately trying to unseat one of the most popular German politicians, Chancellor Merkel. Massive anti-NSA protests spread across the country. Well, 1,000 demonstrators straggled through Frankfurt. It’s going to be tough for him.
From tiny app makers to giants like AT&T, they’re all part of Big Data. They chase after billions by collecting, storing, and mining personal data. Data is money. Much more than money, if governments get it. Which led documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback to lament: “The craziest thing is that I didn’t realize I was making a horror film.”
Chancellor Merkel’s coalition is likely to emerge victoriously from the elections in September, unless a major debacle blows up. So no debacle is allowed to occur until after the election. But just then, new revelations about NSA spying blew up: turns out, all citizens anywhere can be under surveillance by any government, including their own, beyond control and oversight.
A technology that surreptitiously captures data of people out on the street, combines it with other data, and mines it ad infinitum? Local and federal government agencies love it. It’s increasingly sophisticated and cheap. It’s spreading. And it led a professor at West Point to warn: “We don’t have a police state in this country, but we have the technology.”
Governments, corporations, even that genius app developer in Russia have one thing in common: they want to know everything. Data is power. And money. As the Snowden debacle has shown, they’re getting there. Technologies for gathering information, then hoarding it, mining it, and using it are becoming phenomenally effective and cheap. But it’s not perfect.
Keyhole Inc., a venture-capital funded startup, was acquired by Google in 2004. Its product became Google Earth. Its technology filtered into Google Maps and Google Mobile. One of the venture-capital investors? The CIA. It didn’t ruffle any feathers at the time. But now we have NSA leaker Edward Snowden and his media blitz.