The many lies of cloud computing

In Depth - A merciless lens pointed on the hot topics, passionate and detailed retrospectives, reflections beyond the appearances After more than four years since the post with which this blog tried to highlight the dark side of that hollow and meaningless thing hidden behind the “cloud computing” moniker, I think it’s now time to go back on the topic with an annotated list of the most recent and remarkable horrors fallen down from the sky of Internet servers. The “mainframe 3.0” class services promise a lot, keep very little and don’t give any guarantee on anything. Or to say it with the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, selling one’s own rights of ownership on software, data and products is the first stone of the road that leads to digital hell.

The cloud is reliable

To turn its many, wonderful hopes so passionately described by the new holy men of technology (above all, Ray “Singularity” Kurzweil) in reality, cloud computing must first of all be reliable, always available for users any moment of day and night. If this is the essential premise, mainframe computing 2.0 already is a failure at the start if a simple tweak sent to the routers of an important middleman and network caching company like CloudFlare is all that’s needed to make the sites and the services employing it “disappear” from the Internet.

Not even the biggest players on the market like Microsoft are able to guarantee that a trivial webmail and e-mail service will be always available, to say nothing of Google and its Drive service – the “virtual hard disk” Mountain View turned into the universal center for cloud storage of all its users data – that drags e-mails, “apps” and all the rest with it when unavailable. Netflix wants to be the king of video streaming, but right now it’s mostly the king of outages during Christmas holidays or in any given day of the week.

The cloud is security and privacy

If it cannot be reliable, at least cloud computing is secure against malicious code and in protecting confidentiality of users/clients data, right? Wrong: Google Docs is the ideal tool for leading phishing campaigns against the accounts owned by the Oxford University, and the Internet services that big video games publishers like Ubisoft force on the users are regularly holed by unknown crackers which illegally access the accounts databases.

As for confidentiality, pairing the word “privacy” with cloud computing is just like saying that white is colored black: Microsoft (and all the others) scan data stored by the users on cloud storage services, and even if the hunt for child porn stuff can look like a more than compelling reason the fact that everything going on-line stops being private is as much clear. And the scandal known as “Datagate” which is inflaming the entire planet since the 6th of June onward, do we want to talk about that?

The revelations by former CIA agent Edward Snowden on PRISM and the other thousand tentacles of the USA intelligence depict an on-line world where the National Security Agency (NSA) and the other federal agencies have direct access to the big companies’ servers (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Apple, anyone) and can freely spy on e-mails, audio, video, photos and any other type of data (including Skype communications), and if direct server access isn’t enough the intelligence isn’t worry about eavesdropping the network traffic directly on the fiber-optic backbones with probes and equipments plugged in the infrastructures.

Edward Snowden, a hero of our times

President Barack Obama defends the NSA global surveillance program officially confirming its existence, while further documents provided by Snowden – which is now desperately searching for an impossibile political asylum that can guarantee his personal security and his rights against the most warmonger, powerful, and influential nation ever existed in the history of human society – confirm that the eavesdropping against citizens is a habit also adopted by other nations (UK, France) formally known as democratic.

The cloud is permanent

Users lost in the cloud have sold their own digital life out for unreliable services liable to total and obsessive control by the secret services managed by governments and politicians funded by the economic lobbies, but in exchange they have at least got the guarantee that the network clouds will always be there for them and their entertainment and communication needs, right? Wrong once again: Electronic Arts, one of the biggest gaming publishers worldwide, tends to shutdown on-line servers of its games after just two years from the release.

The publishers goal is naturally to sell always new cloud gaming services, but the outlook for gamers is to invest money in something with an expiration date beyond which the game’s world will cease to exist forever. Every single corporation in the cloud computing business has the same goal, so Dropbox acquires a photo aggregation system and soon after decides for its closing and users files obliteration after the upcoming 24th of July.

An even more tragic doom awaits who gives all of himself to Google, the Internet Beast that devoured the digital life of an unlucky user by blocking his account and forbidding him to access e-mail, calendar, contacts and personal documents because of a single file flagged as unsuitable for the company’s terms of service. Google assumes no actual responsibility over users data, the victim of the Mountain View Moloch tells, as much as it has no interest in keeping services that are essential for a certain type of users like Google Reader alive.

A long and still debated decision, the shutting down of the world most popular feed reader: Google defended the step by talking about a declining use of the tool, an excuse that jars with the explosion in popularity of the alternative services following the Mountain View announcement. Reader joins the long list of products killed by Google, a cloud computing graveyard where users can leave a flower on the services tombs and that is already prepared to welcome the coffin of the Google Glass future corpse.

Cloud computing

A typical user experience in the cloud computing

The truth is that Reader wasn’t serving the Google main goal anymore, ie to seize more users in its cloud cage than the competitors and to continue to enjoy its on-line monopolistic position by killing the tools based on open web standards like RSS feeds. The essence of cloud computing is to turn the user into a hostage, a process that someone effectively summarized speaking of capitalism that “is trying to abolish private property” and that the aforementioned Steve Wozniak compared to the communist regime of Soviet Russia.

The cloud is the future?

Companies interested in abolishing private property of digital contents don’t miss an opportunity to underline that the future is in the cloud, or in what Bruce Schneier defines as a feudal model of managing users rights, security and data where corporations are the feudal Lords and users are “their vassals, peasants, and serfs“. But the future is unwritten: Netflix wants to “offer the best streaming service for TV shows and films” but the company cancels thousands of titles and contents overnight because it has changed its business strategy, the PRISM and Datagate scandal threatens to jeopardize the outcome of the “cloud revolution” and the European authorities don’t trust Google and its rather loose way to deal with data anymore.

The choice on the future of cloud computing – granted the mainframe 3.0 has a future – will in the end belong to the users, the same users that until now have gladly trusted Google and the other Internet feudal lords and that now are amazed by the fact that the same corporations – together with the USA intelligence – are able to read through them like a transparent glass. As for cloud gaming, at least for the time being and notwithstanding Microsoft’s demential marketing on the non-existent superior capabilities of Xbox One thanks to the cloud servers, the “vast majority” of gamers doesn’t want to purchase – ie rent – digital games on-line. Guarantees Sony, the corporation which already won the next-generation console war with PlayStation 4.

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