The world is positively buzzing with talk of the latest and greatest ‘Cloud Based’ offerings from the tech giants, but what is it they are really after?
A lot of hype surrounds vaporous services such as Apple’s iCloud, Google’s Chromebook, Cloud Music and multitude of web-apps, the Amazon Cloud and even poor old Microsoft’s Office 365.
We could be forgiven for thinking something innovative was afoot.
But what’s new, really? The act of using a search engine was one of the first manifestations of cloud computing. Rather than every internet user needing 5 million Terabytes of data storage in their basement, we sensibly share the resources of servers in remote data centres. Without needing a name for it consumers have been enthusiastically embracing other ‘cloud computing’ concepts – and feeding the data collectors – since the early days of webmail in the 1990’s.
Google was the first company to realise the full potential of storing and indexing our data when it successfully monetised the nominally ‘free’ function of search provision.
Through Gmail, Google Analytics, the verging-on-compulsory nature of various Google accounts, YouTube accounts, blogging services, Google Apps and even News distribution, most web users can’t really live or do their jobs without feeding Google enormous amounts of invaluable data about themselves. The towering technological achievements of Google Earth, Streetview, book-scanning projects, self-driving cars – and who knows what else – are all part of this data feast. Even where the end-use of data is not yet clear, Google collects it anyway.
Of course, it’s definitely not all doom and gloom. Providing open, global access to much of this information is to be applauded as real libertarian progress, and the attempts of oppressive regimes to cut people off from web resources are a testament to their social power. The more idealistic among us can still argue that ‘the Google plan’ might actually amount to an empowering, egalitarian information philosophy of share and share alike which benefits us all.
But hang on – scrape away all the insubstantial talk of ‘cloud-based innovation’ drifting gently across the technological horizon and witness the big players competing to own even more of your data.
What do you mean your music?
With iTunes, software, and the iPod series, Apple has succeeded in taking the lion’s share of the global music market. What I’ve always hated about these services is the way Apple makes me feel like they own my music collection. Half the fun of music has always been the sense of discovery; that rare 45 in a charity shop record box, an awesome mix-tape from a friend, or things like the unknown Jimi Hendrix tapes discovered in a New York rubbish skip. Aficionados of any style are still happiest hanging out, listening, learning and buying with a like-minded and knowledgeable friend in the local record shop and taking a physical object home. If we let the tech giants have their way, all this will be impossible in the near future.
If Apple’s iCloud takes off, you won’t actually have music on any of your devices and ‘buying’ an album will be reduced to owning the right to stream it. Apple will effectively still own and control the data you have paid for, so any issue with hardware or internet connection and there’s no music for you, dear customer. How long until they charge extra to ‘distribute’ your music through loudspeakers instead of headphones?
As many observant journalists, bloggers and media pundits have been quick to point out, another very odd thing about the cloud storage offering is that there really is absolutely no point for most of us. I can buy a Terabyte of storage round the corner for less than fifty pounds. Even the most voracious video downloader or digital content producer can now afford to store and backup their data across multiple locations. What I need to share is easily emailed, drop-boxed or just transferred wherever via FTP.
Everything I do, I do it for you
Google’s Chromebook concept takes all this data-grabbing even further and looks like a premature and probably doomed attempt to absorb information from every computer interaction you perform.
The Chromebook isn’t a computer in the traditional sense, but what has been known in IT virtualisation circles for years as a thin client. The Chromebook is less than a computer, less even than the iPad; nothing more than an interface which allows you to interact with websites and online apps. Pre-loaded with the Chrome browser ‘OS’, loaded with bookmarks to Google web apps, devices like the Chromebook probably could replace your desktop, laptop and smart-phone. But imagine not storing anything locally, and handing everything to Google on a plate.
Everything you type, every document you create, every email you send, every search you make, every video chat, phone call or IM, every film you stream, every TV show you watch, literally every single computing, social, working or leisure action in your day will be captured, stored, analysed, and eventually monetised by Google – or whoever they sell the data to.
Even if you don’t see a problem with the philosophical implications of data control, see it in practical terms;
Most people stand to gain nothing from these services, while the companies launching them will be in the enviable position of being paid to gain the data they want.