TECH_IN.FOCUS

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Why you should be worried about the cloud.

The cloud has been transformed. Our data centre, a store of applications and software, on demand entertainment, and the world’s information, is no longer located in vast warehouses dotted across the planet. The cloud’s metaphor has been made physical and it has moved into the sky. 

 

Before now, the cloud, which masqueraded as something intangible, was not. It had firm rooting: in faceless buildings filled with machines that stored our names, numbers, clicks, searches, preferences and cookies. Little bits of your information were spread across the world: your address in Ireland, your face in Norway, your viewing history in the United States. 

 

In this distributed setup, the laws that apply to your data were defined but by the location of the centre in which your data finds itself. You might not be in Norway, or Ireland, or the United States, but your information was, and so their rules, structures and laws shaped how your data is looked at, stored and used. 

 

We generally know what rules are governing us because they are defined by where we are, and even this limited knowledge of power and structure created opportunities for us to challenge and change - to ask questions, protest and vote. We could see the laws, we could see how they affected us and we could try and make them different. In the cloud our data was separate from us, we lost control over what happened to it. 

 

The new cloud in the skies, takes this problem and multiplies it. Yes, our data is floating above us, but that doesn’t make it free. It is still owned, managed and governed, and while we now know where our data is, we have lost any sense of the laws that govern it, or of the people who control them. Our data has gone from being distant to present, but nothing has been made more clear. 

 

We don’t know who built this cloud, or why. We don’t know who is gathering this data or what they want from it. What we do know is that they felt the need to remove themselves from any landmass with a political system. The laws were so forceful, limiting and invasive, that they had to take to the skies. 

 

We should be concerned by this move, and by what motivated it. In our digital age, we must recognise that our data is a part of us. It can be used to manipulate us, to influence us, and to harm us. We are not safe if our data is not safe, and with this new cloud in the sky, we are at risk. 

 

Technologies grow far faster than humans do. We are still decades away from proper legislation to govern digital influence and power in our social media age. Yet with each new app and platform, the whole landscape changes once again. But we need to keep trying, to see these new developments for what they are: a media source, a tool of mass manipulation, a weapon, a threat. A state. The cloud is its own entity, with its own geography and power system. We need to start treating it as such, to enter into trade negotiations, meet the data dignitaries, to have an ambassador to the cloud. We must meet this new technology, move our awe and wonder, and recognise it. Then the work can really begin.