What’s on everybody’s mind those days? Clouds. Everybody and their dog is thumping their chests yelling “cloud” from top of their lungs. Funny enough just like word “democracy” that really means nothing of the sort anymore “cloud” seems to suffer from the same problem. Everybody uses the same term – everybody means something different. So depending which side you’re on – consumer/user or IT shop or cloud provider it will also mean different things to you even with the established definition. Lets start with consumers (a.k.a. “users”) I’ll quote RMS here:
One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control… It’s just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defenceless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software.
And it’s hard to disagree here. Maybe I’m not as militant as RMS and I do have yahoo.com account but that is a spam-collecting account I use to not abuse my real personal account. I won’t lose sleep if I lose my yahoo.com account overnight.
Going along those same lines and exploring consumer side even further it’s impossible to omit Facebook. Millions of people submit their lives to that black hole of a service. Facebook is a “dream came true” for the folks running it and rivals LSD and Crystal in addiction levels. People spend time there mindlessly playing “social” games, fighting off people they were trying to avoid in real life; parent watching their children, children blurting out all the intimate details (and pictures) to complete strangers; companies snooping on their employees; students snooping on their teachers, and so on… Worse yet you don’t even post anything about yourself – collected data about your habits and habits of your friends can tell everything about you anyway. And people submit themselves to all of the above and more (trust me, list of links would be probably twice as long as this post if I really spent more than 10 minutes looking them all up).
Facebook is not the only one though. Owners of the Google accounts – they store every damn thing there about themselves, their preferences, their geographical locations, their pictures, browser cache (I have observed our internal traffic being routed out to G proxies from machines with Google toolbar installed, neat eh?) etc. Google is just as adept at extracting “value” out of those now, but if one day it decides to go “premium” on you or better yet discontinue the service – what will happen to your data? Even if it doesn’t – where is your data now? Can you trust it to be the same data you dropped there yesterday? Security and privacy of such services do not allow me to submit my data there willingly.
It is important to understand that while Gmail, Facebook and others do bring some value to our lives (yes, they do) one has to be extremely verse in privacy and technology to be able to navigate around all the traps those services offer. Oversimplified statement would be:
Web 2.0 Rule of Daemon: if you post something to services like GMail, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, etc. make sure you still own the data (have a copy of it) and never ever post something you would not otherwise say in public.
Lets review now: from all of the above – those “cloudy” (or should I say “blurry”?) services do not free you up from the burden of maintaining your own archive nor from backing up your information nor for carefully controlling who sees what. Which kind of defeats the hype and steam surrounding that “cloud” ( “crowd”?) and claims that you do not need personal computer anymore, you don’t need at-home storage anymore and you are free now. Yes you are free – from your own information – it lives it’s own life now on the cloud and it can leave you if it wishes so or it can morf into something you won’t be able to control: couple of years ago I stumbled upon a website (darn, I lost bookmark!) that aggregated all the data about me from various sources and offered: “For a nominal fee claim your account before somebody else does!” (if anybody remembers that site – drop a link please). And it was scary – my own data is now for sale. My personality – my id could be claimed by others. This is what you get for dropping things in hands of “cloud services”. Now you may say – “but you don’t use them and you got caught” and you’d be wrong – the reason I didn’t pay extortion fees is because my account was incomplete – lots of missing data and information which made it so much less attractive.
Now some keep claiming “Privacy is over b@tch!” but you have to remember whose interests are being served and whose are at stake here. I’m all for public disclosure and sharing – I am against it being at discretion of companies and corporations. It is my data, it is my decision and it stays with me. Remember also that most of people who advocate above ideology themselves do not live in a room with other 20 people but rather enjoy very private life in their villas and summer houses.