Monday, April 25, 2011

It's a mad, mad, interconnected, discombobulated world

Early this year I posted about cloud computing. (This has been one of my most popular posts and was syndicated by the Netherlands edition of Computerworld.) The moral of that post was: no one watches out for your data like you (should).

Cloud computing, also known as "software as a service" envisions that most people and most organizations will outsource the provisioning and maintenance of computer hardware and software to specialists. You don't generate your own electricity, the argument runs, so why would you want to run your own computer center?

Never mind that with solar panels and windmill generators, a still small but growing community is moving toward providing their own electrical power. Including big IT shops like cloud-app provider Google.

Having mastered the running of very large data centers and handling very large user communities, Amazon entered into cloud computing as a "side" business. It generates a mere half billion or so this way in annual revenues.

So there was more than a little notice taken when Amazon Web Services had a massive outage last week, affecting lots of companies large and small.  From the NY Times, see "Amazon’s Trouble Raises Cloud Computing Doubts."

Nor was Amazon alone last week in IT embarrassment. Gamers galore are furious that Sony's Playstation Network (PSN) has been down for days, stopping them from playing a range of online video games. That hacker-caused outage, now in its fifth day, affects an estimated 75 million people. See PC World's "Sony Yet to Determine Scope of PlayStation Network Attack." And Betanews reports that Sony Can't say if PSN hack put personal info at risk. Reassuring, eh?

The PSN situation brings to mind another Internet-ish interdependency SNAFU. Netflix streaming is a wonderful thing.  The service is hosted on Amazon, as it happens, although Netflix prudently contracted for back-up services in/from enough data centers to circumvent Amazon's oops. It once was the case that to stream movies from Netflix's outsourced servers through a PS3 to my TV I put a Netflix-provided CD-ROM into my  game unit. Worked like  a charm. 

Last fall Netflix terminated support for the streaming CD-ROM.  To continue streaming from Netflix via my PS3, I had to enroll in PSN. Remember, it's Amazon's servers, not Sony's that host Netflix.  So: with PSN dead in the water, Netflix streaming continues to work (after some funny faux log-ins). I'm glad I can still stream -- but livid that Sony has the market power (over a little company called Netflix, market cap a mere $13 billion) to force me to join their gaming network. 

And in yet another recent kerfuffle, Apple and Google were caught capturing location data from iPad, iPhone, and Android users. (Okay, not literally caught -- if you set up location-based services like GPS navigation, you were forewarned.  But last week was the first time most people seemed to notice.)

So: the beloved gadget you bring everywhere is tracking and reporting back to the mother ship everywhere you go. That data is supposedly anonymized upon upload, but in some fit of stupidity, personal location data is stored on devices unencrypted. If you lose your iPhone, or someone hacks it -- it is a smart wireless device, remember -- your comings and goings are disclosed. From Yahoo News, see, "Q-and-A: Smartphone location tracking."

On a much less cosmic scale -- but IMO still a perversion of technology and an abuse of market power -- a "feature" on new Blue-Ray Discs. Movie previews on VCR tapes were mildly annoying -- but easily fast-forwarded past. Movie previews on old-style DVDs were more annoying, because the fast-forward function could be locked out by software during previews (although it wasn't always).  The latest release of the BD standard brings us ... networked previews. That's right. No longer are the previews on the disc you buy or rent constrained to what fits on the disc with what you paid to see.  Now your BD player will locate your Internet connection and download more previews to inflict on you. With fast-forward still locked out, naturally.

What's the moral of this post? That in concept and execution, our networked world remains very much a work in progress.

And what's the authorial moral?  That while the thirty-second computer break-in on which so many TV and movie plots rely is the first resort of the lazy writer, the opposite -- a world where data are always secure, where no one unauthorized can get at data, and where no one holding proper authorization ever misuses the data to which they have access -- truly would be science fiction. 

1 comment:

Erik said...

Yeah, think of storing data in the cloud like storing it in a public locker. Sure, you SHOULD be the only one with the key, but would you store 3 million dollars worth of diamonds in a public locker?

I think the DVD advertisements are damn annoying. Of course, many people watch everything using a computer, on which you can always skip the ads. Of course if you are watching things online, it's a much more complicated ball game.