Will Facebook's Global Users Flee the NSA?

Jason Lee/Reuters

WHEN DAVID Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, looks at the scandal caused by the exposure of the National Security Agency's Prism program with its privileged access to internal user data at nine American Internet companies, he takes a global view. And he sees a world of trouble. "The largest group of people likely to care about the NSA's intrusions are non-American customers," said Kirkpatrick, writing on LinkedIn. And that could mean real trouble for social-media companies. Facebook has a billion users outside the United States. Google's search engine dominates 90 percent of the business in Europe. Why? Not just because these companies work so well, but because before we knew about Prism they seemed much more secure and trustworthy than European or, heaven forbid, Chinese alternatives. Now? "It will be hard to ever again assure users of these services that their behavior or opinions can be protected from the U.S. government," said Kirkpatrick. "It's quite possible that Obama has undermined the effectiveness and attractiveness for political speech and protest of what have been the most potent communications tools for activism in history." Whether we're talking about shares of the market or dreams of democracy, Prism has put them in danger.