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U.S. spying harms cloud computing, Internet freedom: Wikipedia founder

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales attends the international Wikimedia conference in Hong Kong August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales attends the international Wikimedia conference in Hong Kong August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Nerijus Adomaitis

OSLO (Reuters) - The United States' alleged large-scale surveillance of global communications networks will badly harm the U.S. cloud computing industry, the founder of Wikipedia said on Thursday.

Jimmy Wales, who launched the online encyclopaedia service 12 year ago, said the U.S. eavesdropping, revealed by leaks from former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, also poses a threat to Internet freedoms by giving an excuse to oppressive regimes to introduce more censorship.

"It's going to have a big impact on the cloud computing industry as people are afraid to put data in the U.S., but it's also devastating for the kind of work I do," Wales told reporters after speaking at an IT event in Norway.

"If you are BMW, a car maker in Germany,... you probably are not that comfortable putting your data into the U.S. any more," said the former futures trader who is still a key player at Wikipedia, one of the most popular websites in the world.

Cloud computing is an umbrella term for activities ranging from web-based email to business software that is run remotely via the Internet instead of on-site. It is being adopted by big companies and governments globally to cut costs and give flexibility to their IT departments.

Snowden's leaks revealing the reach and methods of U.S. surveillance have prompted angry calls for explanations from France to Brazil. Germany has been particularly annoyed by revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"EMBARRASSING"

Wales said the revelations made it more difficult to convince oppressive regimes to respect basic freedoms and privacy as Wikipedia seeks to limit censorship of its content.

"They (spying revelations) give the Chinese every excuse to be as bad as they have been... It's really embarrassing," he said. "It's an enormous problem, an enormous danger."

China and countries in the Middle East have been most active in filtering Wikipedia content to restrict access to certain information, Wales said.

He said Wikipedia had no plan to introduce advertising.

"If we need to do that to survive, we will do what's needed to survive, but we are not discussing that," he said. "Some places have to remain free of commerce... Wikipedia is a temple for the mind," Wales said.

Wikipedia has been financed through a non-profit foundation Wikimedia, which reported revenues of $38.4 million for the fiscal year 2011-2012, including $35.1 million in donations and contributions.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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