I lamented a while ago about the negative social effects of the move towards the Cloud. Georg Greve has outlined in his blog what an open and socially acceptable approach to cloud computing would look like:
Users must be able to restrict access to their own data, especially by their service provider. Participating in social networks, or enjoying the convenience of having your data available at all times should never have to come at the price of giving up privacy. So users must be given a choice to restrict access to their data as much as they consider necessary or desirable, from fellow users, and their provider. Similarly, they should never lose the right in their data simply because they use a certain service.
Users must be able to switch between providers, or even to host their own data, if they so choose. And they must be able to do so without losing their network.
They should still enjoy the same level of interconnectivity and not be penalized for having switched providers in the form of having to convince all their contacts and friends to switch, as well.
From these follow a couple of necessary conclusions to get to this point:
Free Software is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. Without the software being Free Software, the Freedom to leave, but not lose is exceedingly hard to implement. So in my view the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) is strongly preferred, followed by the GNU General Public License (GPL) Version 3, but ultimately any Free Software license will do. Implicitly therefore I am also not adverse to allowing companies to differentiate themselves to some level on code, as long as that does not violate the principles above.
In order to allow switching without losing the network, any software in this context should be designed federated and decentralized, based on protocols that allow such interconnectivity as well as re-discovering users that have moved.
In order to facilitate the connection of services and providers, as well as allow for innovation and differentiation, a certain level of freedom to experiment is necessary. So software and services should provide truly Open Standards with ongoing interoperability work through plug-fests and automated test suites which give some indication on how well which services actually interoperate.
In order to have control over data, users first need to understand what they are (or are not) allowing the provider to do, which is typically not the case. Most users have never read the 20 page privacy statements which are written in ways that make telephone books seem an entertaining read. So we need a way to simplify this.
A set of standardized privacy policies, maybe with a simple visualization approach similar to what Creative Commons came up with, would be a very useful step forward here.
And naturally it should be illegal to change privacy policies on users without their explicit consent. They need to know what is changing, and how, and what will be the resulting level of privacy they enjoy – in the same clear, transparent and understandable manner.
An obvious example of cloud technology that goes some ways to fulfill these demands is the much publicized social networking platform Diaspora. Diaspora is based on open source software, and the idea is that instead of just one centralized social networking service, there will eventually be a large number of interconnected services that can be hosted by companies or just ordinary individuals. This will greatly alleviate the risks involved with having your personal information and data in the Cloud.
Another example I would like to mention is the N-1 social network that I just recently introduced. N-1 is one node of the Lorea project that also intends to create a distributed and federated “network of networks.” What is needed in the future are open APIs that make it possible for all open networks based on various technological platforms to talk to each other. This will allow us to create a truly worldwide open network of cloud services that can’t be controlled by any central authority.
Incidentally, Anonymous just recently announced that it intends to “destroy” Facebook on November 5, 2011, blaming it for selling users’ private information to government agencies. While this may be nothing more than a publicity stunt, it will hopefully make people consider open alternatives for their social networking needs. This goes especially for people who use Facebook to organize subversive political action.