Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Buzzword is "Cloud"

You may have heard the phrase "cloud computing" lately - if you haven't, it isn't because they aren't trying.

Cloud computing is the latest buzzword in the IT vernacular, used to describe what boils down to "baseless" or remote computing. This means all of your data actually exists on other servers and hard drives. And this is the sticking point.

By using nebulous, happy terms like "cloud computing," the larger computer industry is hoping you will buy right in and start keeping your data on their servers. Technically, you can access this data anywhere and even share it with others in raw format for collaboration; technically, this means the information you put into your "cloud" actually exists on their computers!

If you check the TOS of many sites - social networking, file-sharing, and so forth - they basically say, "We have rights to your content, but no liability for it." In layman's terms, that says, "We can do what we want with your data and cannot be held responsible." (Note the period.)

In effect, this means the network can "promote" your content in order to promote themselves - a lot of early blogging sites (later called "hivesites" by detractors, because of the amount of spam) worked on this model. And a lot of file-sharing and social networks work on this model now. Of course, the very netizens who create this content see little from this in return.

But taken to another level, as Bill Thompson details in his BBC article, this also means the companies on which your data resides can turn it over to authorities at any time, for any (or no) reason, and are not required to tell you. While this does not necessarily mean much to most of us, it could be used against you for basically anything! Obviously, if you are involved in something blatantly illegal, you probably wouldn't choose unsecure cloud computing for your chores anyway; but what if you are simply an angst-ridden, young person who sometimes vents against his government? Or an angry, teenaged boy who just caught his girlfriend with another guy?

Things could get far too serious way too fast, mainly because the US government is so determined to "make an example" of literally anyone who jaywalks these days. It's a knee-jerk reaction to the ugly light in which they are seen by modern society - a deserved ugly light that they, themselves, seek not to correct but to defend. And legalities have arisen from situations such as those above.

So make sure to understand fully that while "cloud" computing sounds light and fluffy and friendly and happy, it's just another buzzword to sell you on an idea you might not quite understand. No matter how you access your data or where it is stored, so long as it is saved, it exists on some computer, somewhere. Clouds are not part of the Internetwork.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008