One of the major buzzwords in the tech world in recent years has been “cloud computing.” What this basically means is that software is being replaced by online services accessed via a Web browser and local data storage is being replaced with remote servers owned by a third party.
To me, cloud computing doesn’t look like progress at all, but rather an unfortunate harking back to the days of mainframes and dumb terminals. Cloud computing represents a tendency towards the centralization of data storage and services. As with the centralization of political power, this centralization also takes away means of control from the common people and gives them to a small elite, in this case the corporations that run the cloud services.
More and more people are now trusting their private data to these corporations and using services hosted on their servers instead of running applications on their own private computers. The price paid for portability is a serious deterioration of privacy and freedom to select which applications and which communication methods to use. Most cloud services are run by private corporations using proprietary software, so there’s very little a user can do to assess the integrity of the service provider. The user is forced to make herself vulnerable to systematic exploitation in order to gain access to these services. The service provider always reserves the right to pull off or change the terms of their services at will, as the case of the Amazon Kindle content removal attested.
The opposite of the cloud craze is the de-centralization of data and services using technologies like distributed computing and peer-to-peer networks. Any system where there is no central server to hold the data or services, but a network of independent and equal nodes is extremely difficult to keep under surveillance, manipulate or shut down by those entities who wish to control people’s activity on the Internet. And the more nodes there are, the more difficult it gets. Taking down individual nodes one by one does little to compromise the integrity of the network in any case where there is more than a handful of nodes. The continuing success of the BitTorrent protocol despite constant attacks from the copyright mafia is a testament to this fact. If there is to be any freedom on the Internet in the future, it is in the de-centralization, not the centralization of services.