[Dave Birch] For a while, cloud computing has been one of the next big things. It’s not merely unimportant technologists such as myself who think so:
Gartner’s top 10 disruptive technologies 2008-2012:
[...] Cloud computing and cloud/Web platforms [...]
And, of course, this is true. Cloud computing is exploding, and it is disruptive. Individuals (eg, me) and companies are increasingly shoving their data out into the cloud instead of trying to manage (and secure) it themselves. However, there are plenty of people who take privacy and security very seriously and some of these people would argue that the headlong rush into cloud computing is not such a good idea and not just because it may be open to others, but because the lack of control may lead to very bad outcomes.
Putting your personal or corporate resources on a private company’s website therefore requires a leap of faith, which many are uncomfortable making. Flickr is a much beloved private company, which was bought by Yahoo! in 2005. The site contains over 2 billion photographs and many, many “Web 2.0″ implementations with people tagging, friending and linking to each other.
So why are people happy to send their data off into the void? Do people fundamentally trust the Cloud? Do they not think about privacy or security? Have they made a calculated risk analysis and come down in favour of this model? I doubt the latter, so I’m pretty sure that people in general have not really thought about the mixing of public and private data.
The advocacy group is calling for major revision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and the Privacy Act of 1974. The explosion of cloud computing, CDT argues, renders obsolete the traditional distinction between genuinely “private” information stored on a person’s own hard drive and “third party” records, which enjoy diminished protections, on the grounds that citizens lack an “expectation of privacy” in data held by others.
It’s clear that we haven’t adjusted to the world of the Cloud yet. So should we adjust, or should be look for an alternative vision that takes a very different approach to personal data and privacy?
An alternative vision is the “Connected Home”. At the recent Forum Oxford Future Technologies conference, Martin Sauter was talking about boosting wireless capacity through the use of in-home femtocells, so when you are using your mobile phone in the home or office (where most calls are made), your phone would connect to a base station in the home or office, instead of a shared base station. To imagine how this would work, imagine my Apple Airport base station (which is a router, an Ethernet switch, an 802.11n hub and a 1Tb disk all in one box) being extended to include a short-range, low-power 3G base station so that any mobile phones within a few metres will use that base station instead of a nearby shared public base station. I have a 20Mb/s Internet connection, which is more than enough to handle voice and data trafffic from the handset.
I thought this was a great idea for a privacy-centric commercial product. You can imagine adding your own OpenID server and your own VRM server on top of it, so that all of your data is stored on your own system — with TimeMachine backup, of course — and the people who want to use it obtain it from you, not from somewhere out in the Cloud. No consumer is going to actually run their own OpenID or VRM servers, of course: the functionality would be invisible to them and they would simply be choosing some menu items in their system preferences somewhere. File sharing ON; Printer sharing OFF; Personal Data sharing ON with authentication; Internet sharing OFF; Identity sharing ON… For this work, naturally, there would have to be an effective way of communicating to people what exactly it would mean to share different kinds of data with different counterparties, but that’s VOME’s problem, isn’t it!