Linked by David Adams on Tue 30th Sep 2008 02:26 UTC
Talk, Rumors, X Versus Y A very interesting "Blogwatch" posting at Computerworld links out to an interview with Richard Stallman wherein he posits that Cloud Computing is a trap to entice users to give up control and privacy and become subject to closed, proprietary platforms. Since RMS is a professional provocateur, I wouldn't consider all of his pronouncements newsworthy. But the thoughtful responses linked in this blog roundup were interesting, and I believe the issue of convenience vs control vis a vis Cloud Computing is a very timely and important debate to be having at this point in IT history.
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Have to disagree
by thebackwash on Wed 1st Oct 2008 01:16 UTC
thebackwash
Member since:
2005-07-06

I disagree with at least the idea that *all* cloud computing is bad. Generally, the data coming from the servers are in an open format. Further, all the data you yourself created are available from these services. Want to the see emails in gmail that you sent before? No problem. They're available. Facebook lets me access all my photo, status, blog postings, in JPG and (formatted) text formats. And so forth with any "cloud" computing service I can think of. All my data are copyable directly from the browser. There's no lock in. Saying so simply confuses the issue.

What it basically comes down to is that sometimes you don't have complete control of things in life, and you have to trust that others aren't going to abuse you. RMS's problem is that he's paranoid that somehow he'll be coerced or exploited if he can't see the source code to any project himself. But why stop at source code? Surely there's levels of opacity to the outside world in business operation. Would RMS demand that any "cloud" computing company he does business with publish its official data use policies, or its handbook of official procedures, install cameras and keyloggers, give us full read access to their systems, and allow us to monitor all internal network traffic so we can see what they really do with our data? I know this is a bit on the ridiculous side, but it follow quite cleanly from what RMS is arguing.

While I agree that source code availability is a *very* good thing, RMS's moral arguments are really quite bunk when applied to inappropriate problems. It's my take that RMS's opinions on cloud computing stem from a general paranoia when it comes to dealing with any self-interested body. It's good be able to verify the operation of your own electronics, and I agree with him that if I buy something, *I* better be allowed to do with it as I please (and so I'm against binding EULAs, most DRM, etc.,) but part of interacting with a third party is being able to trust them. If you don't trust them, then don't do business with them. It's really quite simple. We (US citizens at least) are not coerced into doing business with anyone.

Demanding transparency from business is a good thing IMHO, but RMS confuses complete ownership over things you purchase with a desire for transparency in business operations. The difference here is one of self-determination. Allowing complete ownership (including source code) of things you purchase for private use allows you to use the object as you see fit, explicitly disallowing another private entity say in the use of the product. However, purchase of a service is a different question. Hiring someone to work on your behalf (as in the case of "cloud" computing,) you give up the complete right to self-determination. As long as the contractual demands are fulfilled by both parties, there should be no coercion involved, as contracts are entered into voluntarily.

Now, there is a need to keep public instutions (which ideally have a monopoly on coercion) accountable for their actions, and transparency is one part of accountability, but RMS is demanding that private instutions follow suit. But as I mentioned above, private instutions can not force you to patronize their services. It would be a nice thing, and may gain a business more customers, as well as general good will, to have said business open up its practices to public scruitiny, but then again, any business that is too open is likely to put itself at a severe competitive disadvantage.

I would like to see laws put in place to allow a customer access to all of the information on file about them (including metadata which are mined from the user's usage info,) as well as laws forcing a company to remove all user-submitted content, and to remove all of the user's personally identifiable information from the record. This seems like a reasonable compromise, and a good exit strategy from contractual obligations should they be found undesirable.

Yamin: I absolutely agree with everything you said. ABSOLUTELY 100%. WRT your comment on encryption: It could be done with the technology we have now. Check out public key encryption. I actually would *love* to see a push for this, as well as a push for a single user key usable throughout the internet, because not only would it mean my data transactions with "cloud" computing services would be encrypted, it would also push people I know to adopt the technology for private emails, which in turn would facilitate the adoption for further use (phone calls, etc.)

Reply Score: 2

RE: Have to disagree
by adkilla on Wed 1st Oct 2008 05:24 in reply to "Have to disagree"
adkilla Member since:
2005-07-07

I don't trust Fair Isaac Corp. but do I have a choice?

The problem here is that corporations successfully lobby for legislations to fit in with their business models. Just as I do not relish the spam I receive in my mail for unsolicited credit offers, leaving my private information to an industry that promotes data mining and data warehousing as the future of computing with similar marketing models in mind is equally distasteful.

You have to leave your comfort zone to see the big picture here. Doing that after Stallman's "I told you so" would be a little too late.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Have to disagree
by kadymae on Wed 1st Oct 2008 16:20 in reply to "Have to disagree"
kadymae Member since:
2005-08-02

I disagree with at least the idea that *all* cloud computing is bad. Generally, the data coming from the servers are in an open format. Further, all the data you yourself created are available from these services. Want to the see emails in gmail that you sent before? No problem. They're available. Facebook lets me access all my photo, status, blog postings, in JPG and (formatted) text formats. And so forth with any "cloud" computing service I can think of. All my data are copyable directly from the browser. There's no lock in. Saying so simply confuses the issue.


Yes. This. Thank you.

I'm the EIC for an online webzine, and IRL I work at an academic library. Google Docs & Spreadsheet, for example, have enabled me to collaborate with multiple people using a variety of OSes and programs without a single compatablity issue. Whereas before I had to worry about making sure everybody had the right version of the doc, or wonky formatting that did things like turn " in to ? and ' into superscript 1. (Yes, I know about global find and replace, but not having to do that at all is even better.)

Google's servers are robust and reliable. Unless it's a supermegamajor catastrophe, I don't have to worry about a power outage (happened to my campus about a month ago and lasted several hours) crippling me and my partners' ability to work. (Nothing like coming to work and discovering that you can't access a key document because that particular server isn't "mission critical" and gets no power from the backup generator.)

Neither do I want to set up a server at my house and deal with securing it. (I do have personal, sensitive documents on my home computers and don't want to take *any* risks with that data.) Plus, why keep a computer running 24/7, using electricity if I'm only going to need it about 3-4 times a week -- that's a waste of money and an inefficient use of resources.

However, I don't use Google Docs or Spreadsheet for anything that's sensitive or not intended (ultimately) for public consumption. Yes, I'll be annoyed if there is a security breech that allows anybody to come waltzing into my Google Docs account (because it means that somebody else was asleep at the switch), but there's no harm done if people get the draft versions of my thoughts on yaoi, a film review, or the caveats involved with doing reference via SMS.

Cloud computing is the wave of the future. When used appropriately with an eye to its shortcomings, it's convenient, cross platform, and makes efficent use of resources.

Reply Parent Score: 2