The NSA says it only retrieves online data tied to people outside the U.S., a limitation that is of little solace to companies such as Google and Facebook that generate most of their revenue overseas and see the ripest opportunities for growth in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
"Wonderful. That's really helpful to companies that are trying to serve people around the world and really inspire confidence in American Internet companies," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a San Francisco technology conference in September.
While Zuckerberg and other executives protest government's intrusions on privacy, industry critics point out that technology companies continue to store and analyze troves of personal information in pursuit of more profit. That is raising questions about the motives of their crusade to curb the government's Internet surveillance.
Google and its rivals "just want to be the exclusive spying source for their customers' data," said American Civil Liberties Union senior analyst Christopher Soghoian in a tweet last week.
Crisis communications expert Gene Grabowski believes the companies clearly regret their initial decision to cooperate with the government's personal data demands, rather than picking a legal fight. "It appears to more than a few people that they betrayed their customers," said Grabowski, an executive vice president for the public relations firm Levick.
Associated Press Writer Marcy Gordon reported from Washington.