Digital consumers breaking through the cloud: Page 2 of 2
By Dr Jeremy Malcolm March 25, 2014
Mailpile does still require you to use a third-party email server, so it's not yet quite a turnkey solution for escaping those who want to completely escape the cloud.
But there are many reasons to think that this too will change. Already, for software developers, the deployment of cloud applications on a hosted platform has reached point and click simplicity, with providers like Heroku.
There is a clear opportunity for similar services aimed at end-users, allowing them deploy a range of applications to a self-hosted private cloud with ease.
It would make good sense for Internet access providers to seize upon this opportunity, providing their customers with portable domain names and smart routers that could operate as private cloud servers. (Indeed, a blueprint for such servers already exists – but the ISPs distributing them don't.)
Ironically, it was only a few years ago when most of us obtained our email addresses and webspace from the same providers who gave us our Internet access. Will ISPs turn full circle in the coming years?
What else might the future hold?
I hope that we might also see the arrival of the long-heralded ‘federated social web.’ The concept behind this is that different personal websites and social networks, running different software, should be able to communicate with each other; for example sharing profiles, ‘likes,’ and comments.
This is important if users are to be weaned off dominant cloud platforms for social networking such as Facebook. Sadly, we are still far off from realising this vision.
However, there is a small indieweb community for whom this dream hasn't died, and who have made amazing progress in the past year.
Looking even further ahead, we can expect even more of the services for which we currently rely on large IT service providers to come within the reach of ordinary computer users to maintain for themselves.
For example, through projects like Commotion, even Internet access and GSM phone calls can be self-managed by user communities, by forming their own peer-to-peer (mesh) communications networks using inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware.
And yes, even the hardware itself is becoming ‘user owned’ in the fullest sense, through open source hardware projects like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Soon we will even be able to use affordable 3D printers to fabricate our own circuit boards, from downloadable, open source designs.
Very soon, technology will not be the limiting factor that prevents consumers from owning and managing their own data, all the way from the access device to the desktop.
Rather, awareness is where we are lagging behind. Over the past decade, we have all been lulled into accepting that we should entrust our personal communications and data to large companies that mine them for advertising purposes, impose terms and conditions that we may not agree with (like prohibiting breastfeeding photos), and may be prime targets for government surveillance.
But this is not the way the Internet used to be, and there is no reason why it should be the model for the Internet of the future.
In parallel with the development of new software applications and services that make it technically possible for consumers to break free of centralised clouds, initiatives such as the Web We Want, the Redecentralise the Internet project, the User Data Manifesto and the Free Software Foundation are explaining why we should all care about doing so.
Ultimately it boils down to your right to express and own your own personhood online. Just as it was in the pre-digital world, when our personal diaries and correspondence were amongst our most precious private possessions, so it should be online.
But more than relics of a lost era, the rights that underlie these lost expectations remain as relevant today as ever. Indeed, they derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees us all freedom from arbitrary interference with our privacy and correspondence, and the right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Whilst it may seem to trivialise human rights to attach them to the question of where your email is hosted, we have already lost more than enough ground in the past decade that strongly asserting our rights is the very least that we can do to regain individual sovereignty over our data and communications.
And the first step in asserting one's rights is acting upon them. So think twice before releasing your personal data to large, centralised cloud services, and especially to those that don't respect your consumer rights.
If you can, then take the next step in regaining control of your own data, by moving it to a service controlled by you or by those you trust. By doing so, you'll be bringing the Net one step closer back to the decentralised, egalitarian network of users that it was when it began.
On a personal note, this is my 15th article in the Digital Consumers series for Digital News Asia, and it will be my last for now, as I have just moved on from my position at Consumers International, where I have been advocating for the rights of consumers in the digital age for the last six years.
Whilst I am sad to be leaving Malaysia, I am also extremely excited to be able to announce that I will be commencing a new position at Electronic Frontier Foundation in May, so I hope that Asia's digital consumers won't have heard the last of me yet.
Dr Jeremy Malcolm is an Internet and Open Source lawyer, consumer advocate and geek. He can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Previous Instalments of Digital Consumers:
Net neutrality, and the cost of ‘free data’ for consumers