Cloudy with a chance of data loss
October 13th, 2009 by ravi

Microsoft and T-Mobile have lost T-Mobile user data:

The cellphone provider T-Mobile and Danger, a subsidiary of Microsoft and one of T-Mobile’s partners, said over the weekend that a technical glitch in their computer systems would probably result in some customers losing their personal information like contact names, phone numbers and digital photos.

via Glitch Could Erase Data for Some T-Mobile Users –

What is interesting is that there seem to have been no backups to recover from? Why not? Well, everyone from Adam Smith to Richard Stallman to Joe Stiglitz has pointed out, in their own way, the simple fact that the your interests and that of those you get/buy services from might not always coincide, and in a situation where there is a great imbalance of knowledge/expertise, your ignorance can be easily exploited. This is not a point that is particular to cloud computing, but cloud computing, when consumed as prescribed, does increase your dependency and lower your control over your data.

The solution may not be to turn Luddite and shun technology, but the recent Google/Gmail issues and all that has occurred since (Apple’s MobileMe problem, the drama surrounding, the above T-Mobile/Microsoft issue) should encourage us to think harder, especially about the trend of moving away from standards, published protocols and data formats, and especially the separation of data and presentation.

Often times, the move to cloud computing (e.g: web-based email) from older technologies designed with the above criteria (open standards, separation of data and UI) in mind, is a step backward. It should be unsurprising that even as Gmail was suffering from a prolonged outage for the web interface, the standards based and client-server IMAP interface was fully functional. For those who started using the Internet after 2000, cloud computing (under which label we might legitimately include web-based services, as per their own claims — to hesitantly quote Larry Ellison: “The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do”) might be synonymous with the Internet itself (just as the term World-Wide-Web is often used interchangeably with the Internet). Online services are the only ones they may be aware of, and this serves vendors in that space quite well. They would prefer that you forget the hardware device you use, the peripherals that connect to it, the power of the operating system that enables all your activities, the idea and existence of rich, powerful desktop tools (software). Again that serves their interests. Does it always serve yours?

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