Not So Fast, Cloud

by on October 12, 2009 · 7 comments

The cloud won’t grow quite the way Berin notes, at least not if I can help it.

As the ongoing T-Mobile Sidekick failure shows, if you release your data to “the cloud,” you give up control. In this case, giving up control means giving up your data. (Speculation about what happened is here.)

When you combine that with the privacy consequences of delivering your data to god-knows-where, and to service providers that have heaven-knows-what data-sharing agreements with governments and corporations, the cloud looks a lot more gray.

There will always be a place for remote storage and services—indeed, they will remain an important part of the mix—but I think that everyone should ultimately have their own storage and servers. (Hey, we did it with PCs! Why not?) Our thoroughly distributed computing, storage, and processing infrastructure should be backed up to—well, not the cloud—to specific, identifiable, legally liable and responsible service providers.

  • Jerry Brito

    How's your Sidekick doing?

  • cordblomquist

    Jim, doesn't this sort of analysis ignore the trend toward specialization and the benefits of economies of scale? It makes sense for something like data storage, something that can be done cheaply and efficiently on mass, to become a commodity. It should be purchasable off-the-shelf. Services like DropBox are a good example of this.

    Setting up a server in the home is an unreasonable expectation to have for the average consumer, but it's also a qualitatively different. “Cloud” services like Gmail are undoubtedly co-locating your data and despite the hype about down time, offer a much more stable service than the DIY variety. Additionally, upgrades to services are made seamlessly in the cloud, unlike home-based solutions that require consumers to be aware of updates to services or enable auto-updating, something that the average Windows or Mac user can't seem to grasp. Also, the iterative approach to software changes adopted by most cloud-based services makes improvements to software a much more pleasant process than swapping our your home server OS every few years.

    But finally, i think my biggest issue with your analysis is that you seem to conclude that the market cannot solve some of the privacy problems involved with cloud computing. Shouldn't tech media outlets and the Consumer Reports of the world be able to sort out which companies have the best privacy policy? Couldn't an independent auditor of data-storage services be established? A PriceWaterhouseCoopers for cloud computing? It seems as though we're still in the infancy of this industry–if it can reasonably be called that–so drawing conclusions about the futility of having reasonable standards of privacy in the cloud seem premature.

  • Jim Harper

    My Sidekick is doing fine, Jerry. It was acting funky for a week or so, but I didn't lose my data.

    It's generous of you, Cord, to refer to these four paragraphs as “analysis” . . . . I think your counterarguments are all contingent on the technology of the present day. I'm inspired by a memorable line in Alan Westin's 1967 book “Privacy and Freedom” where he muses about what might happen if the general public were to gain access to the computing power that corporations and governments then had. His writing, of course, predated the personal computer and the Internet.

    Envision a future where Internet access is provided by a mesh of individually owned wireless servers, both mobile and fixed. We do remote (encrypted) backups because it's prudent, but our primary backup is our own storage devices at home or in offices. This is easier to imagine than the PC was in 1967, and it's all a product of market processes, though the direct driver is technological progress, not aggressive consumerism. Crucially, this structure for Internet access and data storage protects privacy against the privacy-invading force not constrained by contract or market pressures: the government.

  • laptop battery

    This is great news. Best of luck for the future and keep up the good work.

  • laptop battery

    This is great news. Best of luck for the future and keep up the good work.

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