How PRISM Undermines Google’s Green Cloud Message

Peter Judge

Google says we can save energy by using its servers instead of our own. After PRISM, Peter Judge wants to know if you really want to do this?

The revelations about the US government’s PRISM project have clearly hurt the big Internet firms involved – Facebook, Google, Microsoft to name a few. According to leaked material they appeared to be handing over customer data to the National Security Agency (NSA) without telling users about it.

The accusations may turn out to be a little exaggerated, but the timing of the PRISM furore may have damaged Google’s efforts to adorn its cloud services with a green halo.

Al Gore © s_bukley Shutterstock

How Green is Google’s Internet?

The PRISM allegations broke just as the company with the “don’t be evil” motto gathered an all-star set of speakers in its Mountain View headquarters for a summit entitled ‘How Green is the Internet?’.  With Al “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore (pictured) giving the keynote, it could have got a lot of publicity. Instead, it got buried.

As you would guess, the title of the summit was a decidedly rhetorical question. There’s an underlying assumption that the Internet is green, and using Google’s cloud will help save the planet.

Gore said the information explosion “can help solve the climate crisis”, and Google people including Eric Schmidt popped up to explain that just doing business with Google is reducing the climate change burden.

Cloud servers are more efficient than your servers, said the search giant’s infrastructure boss Urs Hoelze, so you will save energy if you switch off your kit and use Google instead. In years to come, he said, “you will see millions of businesses with no IT except for their Internet link.”

That may be true, but it’s a message that clearly benefits Google greatly.

It’s also one that has now been undermined by the suggestion that Google – along with other big players, including Facebook. Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo – gives the US government a very free hand with access to their customers’ data, possibly even through direct access to their servers.

At this stage, all players are denying the project as much as they can. And what they can’t deny, they deny knowledge of. But it is very clear from a leaked Powerpoint about Prism, that if it’s genuine, inside the corridors of power US agencies are claiming to have unfettered access to our data at the big cloud companies.

A betrayal of trust?

If you were thinking of moving all your data to a cloud run by Google, or Facebook, you should certainly think again in the light of these revelations. Which may be a tragedy. Because, in point of fact, there is much to be said for the green message that may now be drowned out.

The “pre-readings” (background documents) for Google’s How Green is the Internet site are often cogent and interesting. They include, for instance, one of the best analyses I have read of the reasons why ICT may not actually reduce air miles in the simplistic way other firms have suggested.

Now, however, the “green Internet” message looks tarnished rather than enhanced by Google’s sponsorship.

The firm already has a fading reputation here in the UK thanks to its tax-avoidance, and the arrogance with which it denies any real responsibility for this.

The company’s current users aren’t going away, but they are increasingly unhappy and dubious about the company they do business with – and Google clearly realises this. As an “opinion former”, I recently answered a telephone survey. At first the interviewer was genuinely asking my opinion. By the end, the questions had a pleading tone, as I was asked, one by one, if I was “aware” of a whole series of conscience-saving Google initiatives.

Like greenwash or corporate social responsibility programs, each one of these initiatives is calculated to provide the maximum moral gloss to the company for the minimum expenditure. They are clearly a lot cheaper than paying the company’s actual dues to society in the form of taxes.

On top of that, the ongoing questions about Google’s attitude to privacy further undermines our trust of Google.

Even if it would save the planet to move your company to Google’s cloud, would you do it?

This story is based on an article posted on Green Data Centre News

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