The Cloud – the latest buzz word in technology circles.  What does it really mean?  Well essentially it means remote storage and using the “internet” as a means to run applications, using your computer – and quite often – a web browser as a means to run these applications.  With the rise in mobile devices, this all seems like a logical thing to do.  Keep your data in one central place so that you can retrieve it where ever you are.  This is very similar to the old mainframe model that was used in the past, with a users having a dumb terminal and all data and applications running off of a central computer.  The difference being that these days the device you connect to the “cloud” isn’t as dumb.

At first I felt that the concept was quite interesting, although straight away I realised it’s similarities with the old mainframe / dumb terminal way of thinking.  But over the last year or so of thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s some what sinister from a privacy / personal level.  Personally the hardware is not what I feel is important when it comes to computing.  It’s the tool for me to do my work, and create.  The real important aspect is the Data.  As such I feel it’s important that I have full control over my data, and that I don’t hand over my rights to a third party company.  From a legal point of view you get into situations where a government agency (the Police for example) would need a search warrant to obtain your data if on your personal computer, but if your data is held on a server owned by a third party organisation then it might be the case that due to legislation and company policy you find that your data is no longer protected by such a basic right.

I feel that slowly people are allowing their personal data and personal lives to become open to all levels of intrusion.  A lot of it seems innocent at first, but when you start to look at incidents such as that of the iPhone logging location data (with out the user knowing) and then ponder the usages of this data (which would most probably be for marketing reasons), I have to start to become more wary of what I allow to be stored, and by whom.

On a separate level, a lot of Cloud computing concepts also go against the Free Software Definition.  This is due to the fact that the applications that you are using are not running on your machine (as it were) and you are unable to see exactly what is going on with regards to the programming.  Many online apps (Google Docs for example) are free to use, but they are not FREE.  Also you are overly relying on the services of a third party, and if those services for what ever reason is not available then you are no longer able to continue using it.

I am all for technological advancement, but I have always felt that technology should be there to empower us as individuals and groups.  It should be there so we are able to use it as we please, and use it for a positive reason.  I find the continued expansion of the “cloud” as a means to lock people into services, and essentially hold their data to ransom.  A careful look at all terms and conditions is important when using these services, as it’s not uncommon to find that the data you presume is yours, when stored on these third party servers, actually becomes someone else.

Not all clouds have a silver lining.