The Cloud: Boundless Digital Potential or Enclosure 3.0?
24 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2012 Last revised: 13 Mar 2014
Date Written: June 5, 2012
The Cloud presents enormous potential for users to have access to facilities such as vast data storage and infinite computing capacity. Yet the Cloud, taken from the perspective of the average user, does have a dark side. I agree with a number of writers and the concerns that they raise about privacy and personal autonomy on the internet and the Cloud. However, I wish to voice concern over another change. From the perspective of users, the Cloud might also reduce the range of user possibilities for robust interaction with the internet/Cloud in a manner which then prevents users from participating in the internet as creators, collaborators, and sharers. The Cloud is “manageable” in a way the internet was not, and with users increasingly interacting with the internet with relatively less powerful devices than computers – smartphones, tablets and the like – this ability for Cloud service providers to control or manage users is enhanced.
We owe the vocabulary of “enclosure” to Hungarian-Canadian political economist Karl Polanyi. In his seminal work, The Great Transformation, Polanyi described the enclosure movement in England in which communally integrated and collective farming practices on common lands were suppressed by authorities of the state, forcefully and sometimes brutally, in order to privatize land resources and create the conditions for a market economy in both agriculture as well as other sectors. More recently, the term “enclosure” has been used effectively by American intellectual property scholars such as James Boyle to describe the manner in which intellectual property rules and the concurrent practices of IP rights holders (for copyright, often large corporate interests) in the age of the internet were being used to restrict access to the public domain of ideas or the information commons.
I argue that the Cloud, unless monitored and possibly directed, has the potential to go beyond undermining copyright and the public domain – Enclosure 2.0 – and to go beyond weakening privacy. This round, which I call “Enclosure 3.0”, has the potential to disempower internet users and conversely empower a very small group of gatekeepers. Put bluntly, it has the potential to relegate internet users to the status of digital sheep.
By focusing on the entities that provide Cloud services, I argue that we might take steps to encourage or, if necessary, force private entities to keep the Cloud open and accessible in the long term. I also posit the desirability of a publicly-held Cloud to achieve this same end.
Keywords: Cloud, Cloud computing, internet, vertical integration, thin client, control, enclosure
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