Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cloud Computing = Careless Computing?

Every technological advance has its downside. The automobile made transportation easy and democratic, but it also have us car crashes. The telephone made communication effortless, but it also made it that much harder to maintain privacy. Nuclear power brought cheap energy, but also brought the nuclear bomb. The question is always, does the upside outweigh the downside.

The newest buzzword in computing is "cloud computing", where companies offer us services over the internet that reduce our dependence on our local machines. A good example is DropBox, a backup/sync service that saves files online and syncs them across any number of computers and your iPhone/iPad/Android device. Having every file you need everywhere you need it can be invaluable. Google has fully embraced the idea of cloud computing, and has recently released a new laptop with ChomeOS - an minimalist operating system which does everything in the cloud. (It is actually useless without an internet connection.)

Internet pioneer and information freedom advocate Richard Stallman has come out against "cloud computing" in general and the ChomeOS in particular because of the loss of freedom and privacy we give up by using these services.

But Stallman is unimpressed. "I think that marketers like "cloud computing" because it is devoid of substantive meaning. The term's meaning is not substance, it's an attitude: 'Let any Tom, Dick and Harry hold your data, let any Tom, Dick and Harry do your computing for you (and control it).' Perhaps the term 'careless computing' would suit it better."

He sees a creeping problem: "I suppose many people will continue moving towards careless computing, because there's a sucker born every minute. The US government may try to encourage people to place their data where the US government can seize it without showing them a search warrant, rather than in their own property. However, as long as enough of us continue keeping our data under our own control, we can still do so. And we had better do so, or the option may disappear."
Be cautious this upcoming year, because everyone is trying to embrace cloud computing. Decide early which companies you trust, and whether the loss of freedom is outweighed by the convenience offered by this new technology.


quizwedge said...

I love having some stuff in the cloud. For example, it's nice being able to stream my music to my phone and my Roku (though I may be bringing that in house in the future.) I'm also a fan of not having to run my own e-mail server and Google Docs, for some things, is a nice thing to have as well.

That being said, will I be storing my bank password, SSN, etc. somewhere in the cloud? Absolutely not.

quizwedge said...

Oh, I should add that with things like music, I also keep a backup somewhere in case the cloud ever fails me or decides that I no longer own my data.