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Tuesday, October 5th, 2010, 9:56 am

With ‘Cloud Computing’ You Can’t Keep Your Data Under Your Control

Propeller in 2008
Propeller in 2008 (I was ranked higher at some stages)

THINK before you touch Cloud Computing. The term “Cloud Computing” is vague and broad. It refers to all sorts of things and it’s malicious in the sense that it tends to take both data and control away from the user. That’s why I call it “Fog Computing”, avoiding marketing euphemisms.

Many people gradually take their computer activities online (e.g. photo sharing, news readings) and there is always risk when there is a mediating party either between peers or between a producer and a peer. This mediator offers a so-called ‘cloud’ or a Web platform under which people engage in some activities. This gives the mediator/intermediate enormous control and makes all parties dependent upon this mediator, e.g. for advertising, lifeline, costs, features, and data.

Yesterday I received another reminder of why I must not ever trust so-called ‘clouds’ or Web platforms that store my data in some mysterious proprietary form and give me no access to this data (except data slices that are presented as Web pages, not raw data).

So, what’s it all about?

AOL has money to spare in order to buy the Microsoft-funded Arrington with his rag while at the very same time AOL betrays a vast community of existing users at Propeller (good treatment to few bloggers, but not for a site with like a million members). Well, AOL has just killed Propeller with no prior warning. I have been on this platform for over 4 years and submitted about 24,000 stories there. It all vanished overnight without warning (none that I saw), just an apology. The whole site was shut down. The Webmaster appears to have also blocked the Web Archive a couple of years ago.

Propeller shows why social networks and Fog Computing are a risk. One day you just can’t access your messages, submissions, etc. It’s just like that and it’s not a violation of the terms of service. The mediator (AOL in this case) is allowed to do this.

So yesterday I asked, “Can #identica and #twitter guarantee that they won’t just suddenly announce shutdown one day? What about #reddit #digg #facebook etc.?” I wrote this as part of my Fog Computing cautionary tale. “Has #identica yet implemented a feature for exporting one’s entire user history in a way that makes it displayable/usable? And #twitter,” I asked.

“I’m not a tech person,” replied a peer, “but would assume it should be possible to transfer into own status net app (I believe it is free/libre)”

My reply was that the “first thing I did when I joined #identica was check I could export just in case. At the time there was no such option.”

As far as I know, none of the Web platforms I’m on allows me access to my own data in a form that I can interpret without access to a server I neither own nor control. If that does not scare you, wait a few years. No Web site lives forever and life of a Web site is often just a matter of money; it doesn’t need to make sense to keep it alive, it needs to make money to keep it alive.

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