Pondering a rogue cloud; Will platform providers cave to business, government interests?

Pondering a rogue cloud; Will platform providers cave to business, government interests?

Summary: Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain played the contrarian when it comes to cloud computing: Is the cloud really the backbone of the future we want? Do we all want to be slaves to a tethered device?

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Updated: Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain plays the contrarian when it comes to cloud computing: Is the cloud really the backbone of the future we want?

Zittrain's talk, delivered at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, highlighted one of the biggest rubs with the cloud: We're all slaves to a tethered device that frankly won't be worth much without cloud computing. Consumers trade some freedoms and trust vendors to make decisions for us in exchange for ease of use. And sometimes these vendors will cave to demands from governments and other groups.

Don't buy it? Consider:

  • Christopher Soghoian, a graduate student at Indiana University, has caused a stir. Why? He reckons that "the shift to cloud computing needlessly exposes users to privacy invasion and fraud by hackers." He also notes that Sprint has handed received 8 million law enforcement GPS requests in a year.
  • The Kindle is a tethered appliance that delivers what Amazon wants you to see. And Amazon will cave to publishers on a text-to-speak feature.
  • Who can forget that 1984 incident on the Kindle? Simply put, Amazon can tweak your content. (Zittrain based his presentation on Amazon as CTO Werner Vogels sat and listened).
  • Apple tells you which apps are good for you. An Android eye application? Nope. How about app called Freedom Time that mocked George W. Bush? Nope. The list goes on and on.
  • The FBI can go to OnStar and force the company to put a microphone in the back of a car on to track a suspected perp.

"More and more, your reality is contingent on the cloud and features that are dictated by business judgments," said Zittrain.

Zittrain said the biggest risk here is that the government can pressure platform providers. "You hit the platform providers and they cave for business reasons," added Zittrain. "Smart devices can be bent toward law enforcement. As a society we have to grapple with new set of worries called civic worries."

Google's Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product management, said companies have to be "clueful and principled," but noted there are a lot of new waters to navigate regarding cloud computing, privacy and other issues. Horowitz added that Google management "cares passionately about these issues."

Wharton legal studies professor Kevin Werbach asked: "Can we afford to rely on good management? People and leadership changes? Anything in design principles to avoid this?"

Horowitz said a strong cloud computing community and groups to keep giants honest will be critical. "It's important that there are people that keep us on our toes," he said.

Listening to this back and forth was interesting, but Zittrain has a point. Governments and other groups could pressure cloud providers into making a lot of decisions that consumers wouldn't make on their own. What's the answer? For now, it's Horowitz's clueful management approach, but it's unclear whether that'll always work in the future.

More from Supernova: Amazon CTO Vogels: Cloud computing an option for disaster recovery

Smart cities, sensors and their potential side effects

Topics: Cloud, Amazon, Hardware, Virtualization

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  • Our future

    [i]Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain plays the contrarian when it comes to cloud computing: Is the cloud really the backbone of the future we want?[/i]

    I will [u]never[/u] consider storing personal files on anything even remotely considered "The Cloud".

    The amount of privacy concerns here are mind boggling. Yet, so many seem so willing to give up using hard drives and offline operating systems and are just waiting to throw themselves at Google. Maybe they are willing to, or maybe they are just saying they will to try and start an argument. Either way, I am not setting myself up to be another statistic added to the growing list of data breaches recorded each year.

    The question is, if I, as an individual will not store my data there, why would an entire company? Their data consists of sensitive material that gets stored on their own servers. Why would they surrender all that sensitive material to another company? If anything, that would [i]increase[/i] security concerns. No longer can your IT personally look after your data and your equipment, you are now at the mercy of the cloud.

    So, to answer the question, cloud computing [b]is a no go[/b] for me. As long as I use computers, I will use an offline OS, with a local processor, memory, gpu, and local storage, and most importantly, local apps.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • AMEN!!! (nt)

      .
      No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Re: Our Future

      >The question is, if I, as an individual will not
      >store my data there, why would an entire company?

      Because, legal fictions notwithstanding, a company is not an individual, doesn't think like one, and doesn't care about them unless they happen to be (or potentially be) part of a significant category such as "consumers".

      The word [i]corporation[/i] is derived from the Latin [i]corpus[/i], meaning "body", and represents the idea of all its members being part of a single body. It's the most collectivist form of organization the human race has ever managed to come up with.
      masonwheeler
      • You're partly correct, but mostly incorrect.

        <i>a company is not an individual, doesn't think like one, and doesn't care about them unless they happen to be (or potentially be) part of a significant category such as "consumers".</i>

        You're partly correct, but mostly incorrect.

        A company is, indeed, not an individual. But, many of those companies do serve the public or a lot of "individuals". Those individuals, if they weren't about to divulge any of their personal information on the internet or cloud, would certainly not appreciate it if a company they trusted with their information then turns around and allows the personal information for the collective "individuals" to be exposed to hacking or to government "access" or government control.

        All companies should be answerable to their customers.

        No company should assume that because its customers are using their service, that those customers implicitly gave the company permission to do with their personal information as the company wishes. That is why all companies should have company/user agreements that forbid the company from doing anything with the customers information which the individuals themselves would not do.

        Furthermore, a company is not an inanimate object which doesn't have control of its assets or is not aware of its surroundings and or is not able to make intelligent decisions. The "company" is made up of people, and those people, hopefully, do have consciences and are capable of making intelligent decisions regarding not compromising its customers' wishes.
        adornoe
        • Mostly Incorrect...if you're in Canada

          where we have PIPEDA, a federal statute that supposedly protects electronic data and provides for privacy. Except...the RCMP and a few other agencies seem to be able to work around the provisions of PIPEDA
          LilaWagner
      • Thanks for the Latin lesson Sparky.

        But who really asked?
        ths40
    • Stay Sunny

      I agree with your security and privacy concerns. I certainly will not put important personal data where it is available via the Internet, and will continue to caution others, as well.

      Other reasons for staying away from clouds include control of patches, backups, software choices and versions. Reliability hasn't been very impressive so far, either.

      The cloud might be able to help users who are (and wish to remain) ignorant of the technical aspects of computing. Windows is pretty arcane for a lot of people, Linux is worse, and Macs are only marginally better. Even in this arena, I doubt that clouds will prove up to the task.
      w_c_mead
    • A Cloudless Future

      We have had some discussions about "The Cloud" at the office. I for one, [b]will hand in my resignation;[/b] should the C level execs decide to "move to the cloud".

      Why??? You may ask!

      Because I do not want to be the one who has to be standing in front of the fan, [b]when the s--- hits![/b] And we all know that it will. It would be quite likely that [b]when it does[/b] ([i]as opposed to [u]if it will[/u][/i]) happen; the ID10T PHB that dreamed up this idea will be long gone. [i]And I am not a member of the janitorial staff![/i]
      fatman65535
    • local search

      what you should also consider is to duplicate the google search capability locally on you machine.

      download the internet content and perform all searches locally.

      that way google can't collect your search stats.

      you can't be too careful
      cseeling
      • Search is no threat,...

        it doesn't matter if the government or anybody else finds out what I
        search for. However, there are zillions of laws concerning the
        possession of certain objects and certain data. Because all data is easily
        accessible on the Internet, especially to law enforcement, it is a terrible
        idea to place any data a user wishes kept private on the Internet.

        If law enforcement wishes to get at any data on your hard drive, they
        have to get a court order, or even without one, have to physically come
        and get the computer. That requires significantly more effort than to
        simply make a phone call to an Internet provider, who will hand the data
        to them on a silver platter.
        arminw
  • Anyone that uses a "cloud" is a fool.

    But it will take a few years for them to figure it out and by that time it will be too late.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Indeed - IS it the future we want?

    "Is the cloud really the backbone of the future we want?"

    I think it's a valid question. And the point that "We?re all slaves to a tethered device that frankly won?t be worth much without cloud computing" is a perfectly valid point.

    I don't know why ZDNet pushes a model that is so poorly thought out and broken.

    That's why I've been advocating a hybrid model that does [b]not[/b] assume that a person is online most of the time, but works fine if the user is.

    I see [b]ZERO[/b] reason why we can't bring the benefits of cloud computing (nearly invisible installs, automatic updates, etc) to desktop applications. It's perfectly technically possible. We just need to start writing code that does it.
    CobraA1
    • a reason

      "I see ZERO reason why we can't bring the benefits of cloud computing (nearly invisible installs, automatic updates, etc)"

      Dubious benefits. While I generally accept the need for security updates on networked systems, application updates are not always for the better. Once you get to the point an application does everything you need, "enhancements" are counter-productive, merely offering different instead of better.

      I want to choose to update or not based on if benefits that will exceed the costs in the long run or not.
      wkulecz
      • Well, you don't get that choice with the cloud.

        "I want to choose to update or not based on if benefits that will exceed the costs in the long run or not."

        Well, cloud computing doesn't fix [i]that[/i] problem. If your cloud provider decides to update their website and you think the changes they made to it kills your productivity, you're stuck. Because the next time you refresh your page, you have the new interface.
        CobraA1
    • Well i see a reason

      Money Idiotic CEO that dont know dick about
      IT will go straight into the arms of cloud
      because it inexpensive ... It will be all
      about the money.

      As far as security and privacy the'll SUE are
      that what they think ....

      But im pretty sure that waves of idiotic CEO
      will impose on IT to go toward cloud ...
      Quebec-french
  • Clueful Management?

    Haven't we learned that management will do whatever they can to make themselves rich? Why would we expect CEO's of cloud companies to stand up for our rights? Which is a more likeley scenario: company caves to government pressure to insure profits (see Yahoo and Google and the rights of Chinese citizens) or the CEO's fall on their swords to protect us. They would be under even more pressure in their own country where they can be physically intimidated as well as financially motivated.
    curph
  • Public Clouds and Business Clouds

    Reading the article and the comments I was struck by the fact that nearly all of this is about consumer usage on public clouds. I think we are much more exposed than we believe to privacy intrusions in this environment -- both by our own lack of understanding and the actions of the cloud owners and government.

    On the other hand, very little of this discussion was about clouds for business purposes where the implementers and the users should both know a good deal about both technologies and policies and as the buyers are in a good position to get and pay for what they consider appropriate.

    Of course that doesn't deal with businesses putting up clouds for interaction with consumers. Another whole problem area to explore, much more in the consumer model.
    amywohl
  • " We?re all slaves to a tethered device that frankly won?t be worth..."

    "...much without cloud computing..." Is a HUGE reason why our sales force and sales/finance executives are not betting on the cloud going forward for our 3500 worldwide employees. Some useage - of course - total useage nope. Hybrid - best possible solution at this point, MS is head of the game on the Hybrid, Adobe looks good with thier tools...it will be interesing, to watch. Especially the fanatics.
    TheBottomLineIsAllThatMatters
  • Lots of good reasons to hedge bets on the cloud.

    But as long as the cloud has lower upfront costs than local computing, there will be a temptation to go all in.
    Lester Young
    • Which makes me afraid

      People see a possible way to lower costs, and end up making a bone-headed decision to throw all of their data out into cyberspace.

      They might as well as tell their employees to leave their laptops and blackberries sit out in the open, unattended as well....
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion