The Future Of Cloud Ownership – Online Services

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It is well known that what we deem we own, helps define us in some way. Remember when you could look at a person’s bookshelf and recognise the heavily worn books that had seen much use compared to others? You could easily distinguish an interest or two from what you could physically see. Can you do this with such services as your Amazon Kindle account?

What I find interesting when I speak about cloud services and subscriptions is ones’ own definition of possession. I hear many people describe their subscription accounts in the following way:

I own the full collection of Harry Potter books, and I own a large collection of movies I can watch any time I wish.

This is where the definition of ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’ tends to be changing as the online cloud services become more popular within society. In my opinion, when you own something, you physically have it in your possession, or at least hold the rights to something you may have lent out to another person. However, there is a shifting understanding and definition of the term ownership now we are inundated with cloud subscription services.

Over the recent years including the vast majority of local, national and international lock-downs, online subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Amazon Kindle, Spotify, and such services as Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive have seen exponential growth. At the same time, many companies have seen little growth or completely lost the ability to remain open and profitable. More people than ever are using online subscription services. This can range from watching movies, listening to music, to things like using software programs, communicating with friends, and storing your personal data.

Don’t get me wrong, subscription services can add much need convenience to a somewhat, information-overloaded mind. They can help us organise our photos, videos, digital work documents, emails, books, movies, and music. They also help us access our data from anywhere in the world. This seems to be the big concept widely adopted as a valid reason for using such online subscription services. Companies all over the world are flocking to use online based cloud computing and storage services. It allows all their employees to connect to the required data from anywhere in the world, and collaborate on large projects whilst remaining within the information framework loop.

We are living in an age of streaming where our possession of personalised content is a constant inconsistent confusion of ownership. When you use Netflix, did you choose the movie or series episode or did an algorithm suggest it? Once you had watched the movie or episode, did it disappear from your list of available items?

We are living in an age of streaming where our possession of personalised content is a constant inconsistent confusion of ownership.

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Provides of these much desired services are able to use your informational data (personal interests and communications) to improve their services, and offer better content. One of my concerns is what about tomorrow or the next day? Surely, with the ever increasing changes within complicated terms and conditions of use (which the majority of people just click away and blindly enter themselves into complicated contracts), Google could start scanning your personal data and using it to build up personalised portfolios of your interests, likes and dislikes, then sell it to advertisers and make billions. Wait a minute… this has already been done! What about Apple, contacting a popular artist and letting them know millions of people are currently storing their music in their iCloud accounts. They could then capitalise on this knowledge and suddenly, your personal data can be used to advertise services to you all over the internet. Wait, this might already be happening with many cloud service providers such as Google Drive and Dropbox.

Unfortunately, most of the laws we rely on to protect our rights and personal content usage, were written before such technologies existed. The laws tend to align well when dealing with physical ownership of items, but really struggles applying in the digital cloud. In my opinion, it almost becomes quite useless.

Consider your collection of movies or music within your cloud service. You are under the impression you physically own this material. However, what happens when the service provider decides they no longer wish to supply a certain movie or particular music album? Do you get to keep it and use it? No, of course you don’t. You accept the fact this possession-al decision has been taken out of your hands and now you are at the mercy of large corporate companies whom can change anything they wish if it does not make a profit for them.

I have spoken about laws and how they don’t seem to effectively apply when engaging with cloud services. However, one particular law applies very well and is something I personally have much experience and knowledge of… Contract Law. We all sign contracts in our daily lives possibly hundreds of times a day. When you use your phone, you are agreeing to abide by the providers terms and conditions. When you stream the latest game title, you are agreeing to play within the boundaries dictated to you by the provider or developer. When you drive your car into a car park, you inadvertently agree to a set of terms and condition that sometimes, can be very difficult to locate. When you enter a local shopping store, you enter into an agreement with them yet many people have neither read or even seen those terms and conditions. However, it is these terms and conditions that subscription services heavily rely on.

We all sign contracts in our daily lives possibly hundreds of times a day.

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In order for a cloud company to process your data as you request, they do need rights to copy, distribute, and relocate your data between services. When you send an email with a photo attached, the contents are sent from your email client software, through your ISP (Internet Service Provider), to your email provider’s ISP, to your email server location (such as Gmail), then from a Gmail account through their ISP to yet another email provider such as Microsoft having first, passed through Microsoft’s own ISP. From here, is passes into the recipients email account, then is transferred through the provider ISP, down through the recipient’s ISP, then onto their own personal computer. As you can see, it is vital that certain terminology is present within cloud service terms and conditions. However, such rights as unlimited ability to change, reuse, redistribute, advertise, monetise, remaster, and sell your data is clearly corporate companies such as Google taking things way too far. Your rights are eroded every time you use such services as Google Drive (or any Google service for that matter). Dropbox also have similar terms and conditions that allow them to scan your content in the name of piracy detection.

Your rights are eroded every time you use such services as Google Drive (or any Google service for that matter) as well as many of the popular cloud/streaming service providers.

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Here is a crucial consideration to make when using cloud service providers… if you dispute your bill, you are not only risking that particular movie you wanted to stream, or your favourite song you wanted to listen to, but are also playing Russian Roulette with all your family photos, videos, personal documents. This is because the cloud services are slowly becoming more integrated by nature. More types of data are now stored into one cloud service provider than there ever was right at the beginning. This means, in the terms and conditions, you could potentially lose everything if a decision does not go in your favour. Your account could be removed completely along with all your data (even without warning).

You are playing Russian Roulette with all your family photos, videos, personal documents if you choose to use Cloud Services.

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Despite these difficult situations, cloud services should not really be stopped because we have so much to gain from the freedoms they provide us with. You should be able to access ‘your’ content from anywhere and not be restricted to your home location. The technology exists so why not build this to better serve the global community. After all, if your house burns down, you have some piece of mind your important memories and documents are safe in the cloud. Not everything will go up in flames.

The cloud technology exists so why not build this to better serve the global community instead of taking away their rights?

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However, we know cloud services are quickly becoming integral parts of our lives, having been well integrated into any type of device we physically own. Moving forward, in my opinion, we should be aiming for some type of balance between a cloud service and physical possession of our items. We must find a way that does not erode our possession rights, freedoms and privacy, and reassert our rights to take back control.

Why not consider in the United Kingdom, a landlord cannot just kick you out of the property you were renting. They can apply to the courts for an eviction notice, but you are given the opportunity to fight the eviction. You are given the protection your landlord cannot just grab your possessions and throw them out onto the street without due process (even if you are withholding rent payments). However, what about cloud services providers?

At the moment, cloud service providers are freely able to delete your personal data because of the terms and conditions you have blindly agreed to by clicking accept without reading what your rights are, and because current laws are not established to deal with the digital possessions online (your personal data). What if you wanted to easily extract your data from one cloud service provider and transfer to another? When you look at the process, it can be very time consuming, and somewhat difficult to achieve. How do you appeal a decision that has been made to erase your data by means of closing your account? At the moment, you having nothing to fall back on and little to no laws actually protect your rights in these situations. What about your given right to privacy and having the ability to choose if your data could be used to build personalised portfolios of you, have your data scanned and used with unlimited restrictions by the cloud service provider? How do you attain your due process and fight your side of the events when the terms and conditions you have agreed to clearly take away any decisional rights you had, and the ultimate decision lay with the cloud service provider?

What we need is a way forward an incentive is given to cloud service providers to allow them to respect your rights, your wishes to appeal decisions, your rights to privacy, and options to opt-out of certain types of processing. We need the laws to be rewritten that take into account modern ways of living whilst this discrepancy of ownership definition exists.

At the moment, the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and more, have no incentive to change their ways, and update their terms and conditions of use. You are not given the opportunity to negotiate the terms of service just in the case of WhatsApp recently telling every single user, they must agree to their data being shared with Facebook. Originally, back in 2014, WhatsApp stated they would not share the data with Facebook and it would remain separated. In 2016, WhatsApp updated their terms of service and ‘asked’ users to agree to sharing their data with Facebook. You were given an option to opt-out of such data transfers. Now in 2021, the situation is a ‘DO OR DIE’ scenario. If you accept you can keep using the services. If you don’t, goodbye to your service and personal data along with it.

On another note, have you even tried to export your data from WhatsApp? The process is tedious in nature, does not provide adequate means of doing so, limits the data exported if you select to have all your data files exported at once, and the result in a complicated mess of files that no longer form any meaning use.

As mentioned above, it is clear there are no protections written into law that stop this from happening. The cloud service and subscription industries have no incentive to allow us to negotiate the terms of service regarding the use and storage of our data.

I will leave you with a quote from Garfinkel whom is an author and researcher in Virginia who focuses on computer forensics and privacy matters:

When the laws of physics can no longer protect consumers and citizens as they have in the age of physical property, it is the obligation of society to intervene with the laws of man.

Garfinkel 2011

Further Reading…

Garfinkel,. 2011. A Cloud over Ownership [WWW Document], MIT Technology Review. Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/2011/08/23/191867/a-cloud-over-ownership/ (Accessed on 17.01.21).

Shawnee Hayward,. 2015. Do We Own Anything Anymore? [WWW Document], Tomorrow’s Librarian. Available at: https://tomorrowslibrarian.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/wonder-wednesday-do-we-own-anything-anymore/ (Accessed on 17.01.21).

Brian Lee,. 2017. We Don’t Control Anything Because We Don’t Own Anything [WWW Document], Black Health & Wealth. Available at: https://www.blackhealthwealth.com/we-dont-control-anything-because-we-dont-own-anything/ (Accessed on 17.01.21).

John Herrman,. 2012. You Don’t Own Anything Anymore [WWW Document], Buzzfeed News. Available at: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jwherrman/you-dont-own-anything-anymore (Accessed on 17.01.21).

Nicole Lee,. 2020. Life online: Subscribe to everything, own nothing [WWW Document], Engadget. Available at: https://www.engadget.com/subscription-lifestyle-192719694.html (Accessed on 17.01.21).

By The Editor

With an adventurous desire to change; this blogosphere aims to evolve discussions by penetrating deeply into the thought of knowledge, an attempt to stimulate and translate cognitive points in question… The goal of ThinkOgram is to contribute substance to a chosen subject matter by sharing an opinion to create a different viewpoint so others can comment, reflect, and discuss in further depths the topics raised. We like to call it, 'A Profound Cognitive Movement'.