Cloud software is unreliable [ii]

041 January 16, 2016 -- (cogitatio)

A couple of years ago I was arguing that cloud software is unreliable, and moreover, that the concept itself is fundamentally flawed. The ifs and whys of this discussion were, and probably still are, debatable, but the fact is that despite my argument, people use the so-called "cloud" a lot more than they've been using it two years ago. Not only that, but they've come to rely on it, or depend on it, if you will; I myself am using it more and more under social pressure from friends, co-workers and so on, despite the fact that distributed1, albeit less convenient alternatives do exist. So a rather good question is, how much we're actually trading for that convenience?

This migration towards service-as-a-stuff is happening despite recent events such as the Sony PSN hacks, the infamous iCloud scandal, numerous database leaks from corporations and so on and so forth. These are all apparently small and forgettable2, and I've already foreseen some of them in the previous part; but since they're not the only ones, it doesn't hurt to extend the thought experiment with more (more gruesome, painful and whatnot) scenarios.

Scenario 4: The enemy of the state. I've been avoiding this in the previous scenarios, more for the sake of not giving in to paranoia if anything. However, it has become clear that today's states, even the ones in the so-called "civilized" Western world, especially those in the Western world, will gladly smash your head3 to ensure their own security. In that moment, the state4 will have complete control over your data, including the power to forge stuff. Because in the logic of "preventing" "terrorism", no one's really thought of actually preventing terrorism.

Scenario 5: The great bankrupcy. Corporations are people, and people, believe it or not, very often die of natural causes. So what will happen with your company's data when they discontinue Google? This will send giant ripples all through the Interwebs, and while you're drowning, somewhere on the sides you'll see ol' Richard Stallman chewing his foot and saying "I told you so".

Scenario 6: The Second Library of Alexandria (as coined in the archive™). This is pretty much the endgame scenario for the Internet, the most improbable of all, given the latter's resilience. However, "resilience" is still billions of miles away from "immunity", which makes the thought behind this scenario at least interesting, if not of any practical use. It's safe to say that in such an improbable event, your worth to humanity will be much higher if you have control over your very own data.

Or, as the old saying goes, "don't put all your eggs in one basket".

  1. Not necessarily the same as "decentralized". For example Bitcoin is distributed in the sense that storage exists, and control flow occurs, independently on each node; moreover, it is decentralized in the sense that updates to the storage are performed by everyone according to a clearly defined set of validation rules. It is however centralized in the sense that it depends on a single conceptual data store to be synchronized between the nodes. That would arguably be considered a point of failure, if it weren't such a great feature.

  2. Although I would argue the opposite. I wouldn't trust my personal data to entities with a track record of well-known exploited vulnerabilities. Wait, what do you mean "it's the hackers' fault"? I don't care if it is, it's my personal data.

  3. To quote Orwell's 1984:

    There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.

    I don't know about the novel's other predictions, but this one has definitely become true. In the name of democracy and all.

  4. So that we're clear, "the state" includes "tech companies" such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Might as well call them "the department of ads", "the department of more ads" and "the department of selling you ads via drones". Hey, whaddaya know, they've come up with a politically correct word for "propaganda"!