Over the past twelve months I’ve found computing habits subtly changing to shift further and further away from cloud services. While I’ve always been aware of the issues involved in losing control of data, it didn’t concern me until about a year ago when I heard of Amazon deleting all the books from a person’s Kindle then leaving them with no recourse.
I took a look at my digital life, and what I could lose at the whim of a company I had no control over. Many of my photos, music and documents were stored away in data centres not on my machines. In short, my digital life wasn’t mine, it was controlled by someone else. I didn’t suddenly switch everything away from cloud computing, but began to move my digital possessions back to my control bit by bit.
The first step was simply to make sure I always kept backups of my cloud data. I kept using Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Player and all the rest for convenience, but everything was duplicated on a hard drive at home so I couldn’t be cut off from my data.
Then Edward Snowden revealed the extent of government spying on the internet, and cloud providers complicity in this. At that point I decided to set up OwnCloud to manage my own cloud services. For the barely-significant sum of £2.40 per month, I rent a virtual server which backs up my data, shares photos with friends and family, streams my music, even provides me with a HTML-based coding environment for when I’m on the move. It’s true that I’m still relying on a company’s servers and they could shut me off, but because I manage the system, I’d just need to switch to another server and I’d be up and running again.
The biggest change I made on my desktop was to switch back to Firefox from Chromium. This wasn’t a technical decision, but a philosophical one. I felt more closely aligned with the Mozilla team’s principals that Google’s.
Finally, a few weeks ago I switched from Android to Cyanogenmod on my tablet. Again, I felt uncomfortable with the level of information the company was amassing about me. I don’t actually dislike Google, but I think it’s important to understand that they’re not a benign entity offering services for the good of humanity. They’re a massive advertising company looking to turn your personal information into dollars. I still use their services when I think that the trade off is a good one (for example, Google Docs is a great way to edit documents on multiple devices), I just don’t hand over all my information any more.
There are still a few things left to do. I’m currently considering hosting my own e-mail and switching off a closed source messaging system (whatsapp). However, it feels good to have come as far as I have in reclaiming my digital life.