Monday, March 21, 2011

A Cautionary on Cloud Computing

I'm concerned about cloud computing. It is shaping our future in powerful ways, yet ways that are transparent to the average user. The basis of cloud computing is that bandwidth has increased to the point that consumers don't need to store anything on their computer. The computer will just be a gateway to the internet where all your files are stored.
The advantage to this is that anywhere you go with a mobile device, your files will be readily accessible. You will never have to worry about your hard drive crashing either!
The disadvantages are varied and some are insidious. First, intellectual property (IP) rights will be harder to enforce as the company holding your files may be subcontracting the server space in foreign countries with lax rules regarding IP ownership. Second, search and seizure protections guaranteed by the Constitution will easily be worked around because law enforcement will be searching a database far from your house, not to mention your control. Third, in the case of communication failures, your computer will be useless as it can bring you no data. On a related note, those communication failures may be due to bandwidth controls set up by your service provider. Can you imagine? "I'm sorry, you can't have access to your class paper because you used up your bandwidth allotment watching those movies. Please upgrade your account to continue using the internet." Even worse would be the bill if they allow overages but charge dearly for them, as in cell phone contracts. Finally, control of data will be removed from the user. If it was determined that a song wasn't paid for, or payment was made to the wrong entity, the service provider may just delete it off the server. You will no longer have access to it and you will have little recourse in the case of a mistake.
The removal of control from the consumer results in reduced agency, a failure of one test of ethics. We need to take care shaping our future with technology or it may turn into one we do not wish for.