Ah, the Cloud. A wonderful place in the electronic ether where you can put all of your data and software so that you no longer have to manage it yourself; never mind dealing with hardware or software purchases, tech support, or IT professionals. Never mind dealing with privacy and security, avoiding vendor lock in, or being free to do what you like with your data – the cloud will take care of it all. For once, I actually agree with the viewpoint of Richard Stallman:
One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control… 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.
Stallman may be a crazy hippie, but unfortunately, he’s right. In our mad rush to create software as a service, we’ve repeatedly reinvented the wheel in an effort to coerce web browsers into doing things that desktops do with ease – and we’ve lost control over our personal data along the way. In the words of Schneier:
When a computer is within your network, you can protect it with other security systems such as firewalls and IDSs. You can build a resilient system that works even if those vendors you have to trust may not be as trustworthy as you like. With any outsourcing model, whether it be cloud computing or something else, you can’t. You have to trust your outsourcer completely. You not only have to trust the outsourcer’s security, but its reliability, its availability, and its business continuity.
Even though living in the cloud may look great on paper – “All of my services are served by Google, and available via a single user account!” – what happens if the Almighty Goog goes out of business tomorrow? Or just shuts down Google Docs? God knows, it isn’t making any money off of the service. Amazon’s S3 and EC2 services are no better, with rare, but sometimes lengthy outages that can negatively effect many online businesses that rely on the services being running.
The point that I’m trying to get at with all of this ranting and raving is that nobody owns your data but you. How many times have you been told to back up your hard drive? The same rules apply (if not doubly so) when talking about data stored ‘in the cloud’. There is little incentive for the vendor to care about what it does with the data of users who get its service for free. Remember Schofield’s Second Law of Computing:
Data doesn’t really exist unless you have two copies of it. Preferably more. And the only person who can be held responsible for that is you.
The internet is a magical place, and has changed our world in inumerable ways. In this video, Kevin Kelly dissects the accomplishments of the first ’5000 days’ of the World Wide Web, and makes some startling predictions for the next 5000. Ultimately, for any of his ideas to come to fruition, we users will need to surrender much of the control over our data to faceless companies motivated solely by profit. I’m for crafty capitalism as much as the next guy – hell, I want to make my living in this industry – but is this really how we want it to go down?