Google shivered some timbers this week when it was revealed that the company is thinking about floating some of its data centers out to sea and anchoring its supercomputers on barges in international waters. The plan would reduce Google’s tax exposure and could drive down energy costs if the barges are able to capture wave power.
The news got us to thinking: Google expends a lot of effort protecting its users’ personal data from hackers and identity pirates; but wouldn’t a floating supercomputer with terabytes of valuable personal data be a rich target for honest-to-goodness high-seas pirates?
The situation with Google’s latest proposal is an interesting one: to avoid “political pirates” (a.k.a. the taxman), the company may risk making their data centers vulnerable to traditional sea pirates, who might very well sell stolen information to “intellectual property pirates.” It’s a veritable triangle of piracy involving a different kind of theft at each “corner.”
The danger of modern sea piracy is only significant in a handful of places, such as off the east coast of Africa and the Straits of Malacca, where it’s unlikely Google would float its data centers. Still, there remains some risk of sea scoundrels plundering the company’s precious booty no matter where it floats its data centers.
What’s interesting, then, is what Google’s proposal tells us about the kinds of pirates the company sees as posing the greatest threat to its profit. Apparently “political pirates” pose a greater threat to Google’s property than the seafaring kind do. If not, the company wouldn’t be willing to trade an increased chance of plunder by sea bandits for a reduced chance of plunder by government.