I don’t agree with Stallman’s recent comments that users of cloud computing are stupid. I do agree that the growth of web services, including software as a service, have created walled gardens with huge concerns of data integrity, privacy and interoperability, amongst others noted by the NY Times recently.
Cloud computing confuses some. For example, some conflate FOSS, social networking, online storage, software as a service and blogging as cloud computing, which is not terribly useful to interrogate Stallman’s concerns. Speaking from experience, I’ve never had confidence in the ‘cloud’, which is why systems I design for peacebuilding and peace negotiations, inter alia, are designed to work over multiple internet transports, most of them low bandwidth, based on open standards and when possible, open source, are interoperable to the extent possible with other relevant systems and are redundant – the failure of a single node will not, akin to the Internet itself, bring down the whole network.
Organisations that believe they are users of the ‘cloud’ often fail to realise that complete reliance on these services is very dangerous, as it holds hostage mission critical operations and processes to server side outages, local network and ISP outages or blocks, data loss resulting from bankruptcy of the parent company and the infringement of civil liberties through insecure content management.
So in this sense, Stallman is right – we are stupid to not look at ways to reduce our reliance on the cloud, believing in its benign munificence as a guarantee that data will always be safe, secure and available. Through bitter experience, this is something I have written on at length – see WordPress.com goes down – A chink in the “cloud” and how to plan for it
However, Chanuka’s point in this comment is also correct. Proponents of the idea of using alternatives to walled-gardens as they exist today – be it Gmail, Facebook, Myspace, Amazon’s S3 servers or Google Docs – rarely have any viable alternatives that offer the same set of features, ease of use and functionality.
Because of the nature of repressive regimes, HR defenders and those at the frontlines of strengthening democracy often have no option but to rely on cloud storage and information dissemination, given the risk associated with local data storage. But bad practices and ignorance lead to deplorable habits online, leaving many HR defenders, few of whom are IT literate to the extent they need to be today, very exposed to data leaks.
So Stallman is only partly right. His comments, like most of what he says, alienate even those who recognise that there is great value in the issues he raises. The manner he raises them however relegates him to a fringe lunacy, an binary mentality that cannot grasp, much less articulate, a more nuanced approach to and understanding of issues such as cloud computing.