A Cloudy Future

I've always considered my wife a little paranoid about her privacy.  Although she has never done anything illegal or immoral, she sometimes acts as though the world is out to get her.  To avoid leaving an electronic trail, she pays for everything in cash as much as possible and has, until recently, refrained from conducting any online financial transactions. 

I, on the other hand, have been somewhat cavalier about protecting my privacy, believing there is safety in numbers.  After all, out of some three hundred million folks in this country, what are the odds that I would be a target for something nefarious?  Cyberspace is just too vast and ubiquitous.  At least that's how I have perceived it up until now.

Then I read Friday's Wall Street Journal.  Inside was a full five-page "Special Advertising Section" sponsored by a consortium of companies, including Microsoft.  Two articles were featured: "15 Ways the Cloud Will Change Our Lives" and "Creativity in the Cloud."  I am always skeptical of any advertising that tries to tell me how wonderful life will be once I use the company's product, but I become very concerned when they tell me that I will have no choice in the matter.  "The Cloud" is such a product that activates my spider-sense.

Don't misunderstand my concerns.  I'm not a technophobe.  Technological advancements are greatly improving our lives every day.  But can we trust the people who control the technology?  Any technological breakthrough intended for the betterment of mankind can also be subverted for evil purposes.  I have been distrustful of Bill Gates ever since he proclaimed his desire to de-populate the world using vaccines.

Now Microsoft and other companies such as EMC and CA Technologies are touting "The Cloud" as a breakthrough that will change our lives forever (whether we like it or not).  Desktop computers are obsolete.  Internal data storage will no longer be needed, as all of your personal information will be accessed through a sea of hundreds of thousands of remote servers using a handheld iPad or iPhone.  Data can be instantly assembled from multiple sources to develop a research project or a profile of you as an individual.  How could anything go wrong?

The Journal ad quotes John Hagel, co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, Deloitte's Silicon Valley-based research center:

The need for guidance will spawn new companies that leverage the insights from the many footprints we leave online.  Now, for example, shopping sites might offer suggestions of movies or videos based on previous purchases.  The next level will be companies that make those suggestions based on not just your activity on one specific site, but across a range of places -- what you watch on web TV, on YouTube, and other sites. ...

If a company can capture all my online activity, as it occurs in real time, it can have an integrated view of me as an individual and suggest things I didn't even know I wanted to look at.

Although the ad focuses on many potential improvements to our lifestyles and well-being, there are a few disturbing ideas as well.  One of the articles mentions an experimental Cloud technology showcased at a recent trade show which promoted the concept of installing cameras in your bathroom mirror, "alerting doctors" of potential illnesses.

Here's a crazy thought: What if our beneficent government wanted to gain control of "The Cloud" to more easily identify potential enemies of the state?  How far-fetched is it to believe that the federal government won't eventually command this technology?  FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has already exerted regulatory influence over the internet with the implementation of "net neutrality" regulations.  This is just the first step, the "camel's nose under the tent," toward the goal of complete internet control.

Orwell knew the propensity of governments to desire the enslavement of their people, but he couldn't possibly imagine the technology that might so easily achieve it.  Will the concept of "government transparency" be twisted into a scenario in which a ruling class lives in the "clouds" over a completely transparent citizenry?

Or am I just catching my wife's paranoia?

Andrew Thomas blogs at darkangelpolitics.com.
I've always considered my wife a little paranoid about her privacy.  Although she has never done anything illegal or immoral, she sometimes acts as though the world is out to get her.  To avoid leaving an electronic trail, she pays for everything in cash as much as possible and has, until recently, refrained from conducting any online financial transactions. 

I, on the other hand, have been somewhat cavalier about protecting my privacy, believing there is safety in numbers.  After all, out of some three hundred million folks in this country, what are the odds that I would be a target for something nefarious?  Cyberspace is just too vast and ubiquitous.  At least that's how I have perceived it up until now.

Then I read Friday's Wall Street Journal.  Inside was a full five-page "Special Advertising Section" sponsored by a consortium of companies, including Microsoft.  Two articles were featured: "15 Ways the Cloud Will Change Our Lives" and "Creativity in the Cloud."  I am always skeptical of any advertising that tries to tell me how wonderful life will be once I use the company's product, but I become very concerned when they tell me that I will have no choice in the matter.  "The Cloud" is such a product that activates my spider-sense.

Don't misunderstand my concerns.  I'm not a technophobe.  Technological advancements are greatly improving our lives every day.  But can we trust the people who control the technology?  Any technological breakthrough intended for the betterment of mankind can also be subverted for evil purposes.  I have been distrustful of Bill Gates ever since he proclaimed his desire to de-populate the world using vaccines.

Now Microsoft and other companies such as EMC and CA Technologies are touting "The Cloud" as a breakthrough that will change our lives forever (whether we like it or not).  Desktop computers are obsolete.  Internal data storage will no longer be needed, as all of your personal information will be accessed through a sea of hundreds of thousands of remote servers using a handheld iPad or iPhone.  Data can be instantly assembled from multiple sources to develop a research project or a profile of you as an individual.  How could anything go wrong?

The Journal ad quotes John Hagel, co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, Deloitte's Silicon Valley-based research center:

The need for guidance will spawn new companies that leverage the insights from the many footprints we leave online.  Now, for example, shopping sites might offer suggestions of movies or videos based on previous purchases.  The next level will be companies that make those suggestions based on not just your activity on one specific site, but across a range of places -- what you watch on web TV, on YouTube, and other sites. ...

If a company can capture all my online activity, as it occurs in real time, it can have an integrated view of me as an individual and suggest things I didn't even know I wanted to look at.

Although the ad focuses on many potential improvements to our lifestyles and well-being, there are a few disturbing ideas as well.  One of the articles mentions an experimental Cloud technology showcased at a recent trade show which promoted the concept of installing cameras in your bathroom mirror, "alerting doctors" of potential illnesses.

Here's a crazy thought: What if our beneficent government wanted to gain control of "The Cloud" to more easily identify potential enemies of the state?  How far-fetched is it to believe that the federal government won't eventually command this technology?  FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has already exerted regulatory influence over the internet with the implementation of "net neutrality" regulations.  This is just the first step, the "camel's nose under the tent," toward the goal of complete internet control.

Orwell knew the propensity of governments to desire the enslavement of their people, but he couldn't possibly imagine the technology that might so easily achieve it.  Will the concept of "government transparency" be twisted into a scenario in which a ruling class lives in the "clouds" over a completely transparent citizenry?

Or am I just catching my wife's paranoia?

Andrew Thomas blogs at darkangelpolitics.com.

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