Questioning the Cloud

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 26 2011 1:54 PM

Questioning the Cloud

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Photo by EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

In Technology Review, Simson Garfinkel examines the dark—or at least shadier—side of the cloud: It “dissolve[s] physical possessions.” Physical books take up space and add heft to bags, but they also are unequivocally ours to loan out and alter as we see fit. In the cloud, however, “ownership” becomes conditional, with companies like Amazon and Apple able to deny access to and control of ebooks and other digitized media as they see fit. (Consider the case of Amazon removing improperly licensed copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindles.) Moreover, companies now have greater ability to read into your digital possessions, compiling data based on your purchases and habits in a way that was impossible with physical belongings—what Garfinkel terms the “tattletale nature of things in the cloud.” While many of these cloud complaints have been batted around previously, the discussion of how the cloud changes the fundamental way we view the concept of ownership is worth thinking about.

Read more on Technology Review.

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Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. Follow her on Twitter.