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Stallman's Cloudburst: Prudence or Paranoia?

Stallman's Cloudburst: Prudence or Paranoia?

"I can tell old RMS he has lost," said Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. "The game is over, the fat lady is down the street having a sandwich. All one has to do is look at how quickly the public hands over every detail of their lives to Facebook to realize they simply don't care a thing about privacy as long as you appeal to their overblown sense of self worth."

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
12/20/10 5:00 AM PT

When Richard Stallman talks, the FOSS community tends to listen, and that's just what could be observed in the Linux blogosphere over the past week or so.

It was the recent release of Google's Chrome OS that occasioned the Free Software Foundation founder's remarks this time, of course, and his views were just as strong as we've all come to expect.

The technology could "push people into careless computing," Stallman told The Guardian, by requiring them to store their data in the cloud rather than on machines they can control. In fact, relying heavily on the cloud is "worse than stupidity," Stallman warned.

Strong statements they were, but the reactions they've elicited in the blogosphere have been at least as powerful.

'He's Absolutely Right'

"Narrow minded" was the term phatpingu chose for Stallman's views in the comments here on LinuxInsider, for example. "It amazes me that he'd think that the topics raised weren't debated internally by google and that measures and policies to establish content propriety weren't thought of."

On the other hand: "It is not easy to tell if RMS is putting on a show or if he really believes his own words," suggested amicus_curious. "The Google cloud and Chrome OS have little to fear from Stallman's disdain."

Then again: "He's absolutely right," wrote blossiekins among more than 100 comments on The Guardian. "'Cloud' computing ... encourages people to be lazy and uninformed about their data and what happens to it.

"Google isn't a big cuddly bunny that wants to look after all your data for you cos it's nice; it wants to look after your data for you because it gives them more metrics," blossiekins added. "And as the piece spells out, the risks of that are quite chilling."

The arguments both in favor and against Stallman's view have been echoing throughout the blogosphere for days now, so Linux Girl knew it was time to learn more. The sentiment among passersby in the blogosphere's main downtown soon came through loud and clear.

The FOSS Advantage

"Of course RMS is right," blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl, for example. "Using Chrome requires us to trust the cloud, and most of us do."

Take Facebook as an example, Pogson suggested.

"Hundreds of millions spend hours there even though it has experienced one security flaw after another all year," he pointed out. "Millions trust Google and M$ too, although I expect there will be reality checks in the coming years. I would trust a FLOSS-using cloud sooner than I would trust a black hole."

There are good economic reasons for using the cloud, Pogson noted, due primarily to the advantages of scale enjoyed by large companies like Google.

"Individuals and SMBs will all be tempted to offload email, data, backup and document management to the cloud," he predicted. "The cloud business will boom in 2011 and FLOSS with it. Everyone who uses FLOSS in the cloud will have an advantage over those who use M$'s stuff or totally home-grown stuff."

'Privacy Is Dead'

Indeed, "as much as it literally hurts for me to agree with anything RMS says, I'm afraid I have to agree," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet began. "We are simply handing our entire lives over to these megacorporations, and the sad part is they don't even give us a candy bar or 20 percent off our next purchase or anything.

"This is why I switched not to Chrome or even Chromium but to Comodo Dragon, which is pretty much designed around the words DO NOT TRACK," hairyfeet said.

Unfortunately, "I can tell old RMS he has lost," hairyfeet continued. "The game is over, the fat lady is down the street having a sandwich. All one has to do is look at how quickly the public hands over every detail of their lives to Facebook to realize they simply don't care a thing about privacy as long as you appeal to their overblown sense of self worth."

Most probably don't even notice, in fact, that "once they are logged into FB nearly every. single. site. nowadays is ALSO connected, leaving a trail the size of a 747 of everywhere they go," he added.

So, "I'm sorry old hippie, but privacy is dead--it was killed by the inflated ego of the public," hairyfeet concluded.

'The Cloud Is Overrated'

"I think the cloud is definitely overrated, since you lose a lot of flexibility over your own data and then hope the person you are contracting with has done a proper job of keeping backups," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. "There is also the issue of what happens if I'm somewhere without Internet access?"

That's actually "the one complaint I have with my Android phone," Mack said. "Most apps seem designed for cloud access, but what if I'm in some small town with only spotty 2G access and I need directions? What if I'm underground and need the Spanish translator to work?

"Both have happened, and I get the feeling that this whole cloud thing has simply not been thought through properly," Mack concluded.

'The Fine Print Taketh Away'

"RMS has it right when it comes to cloud computing," agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "The trade-off between privacy and convenience needs a lot more scrutiny."

Gmail's information-sharing policy, for instance, is "written to protect Google, not you, in the event that something goes pear-shaped," Hudson explained. "Or to put it another way, 'The big print giveth, and the fine print taketh away.'"

Google has, of course, already refused to provide the government with detailed search histories in the past, she pointed out.

"But who's to say what the future holds? We live in a world where Time didn't pick Julian Assange as Person of the Year at least in part because they're afraid of being put on a government blacklist that currently includes The New York Times and five other newspapers," said Hudson.

'Get a Warrant'

The question, then, is "do you really want 'cloud hosts' and their business partners to data mine your business plans, your spreadsheets, and your legal and personal correspondence?" Hudson asked. "Or to be a target for an 'enforceable governmental request' by some ex-spouse or other creep with an agenda?

"At least when it's on my own hard drives I can say, 'I need more than a reasonable belief -- get a warrant,'" she concluded.


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