Does Google's Chrome OS means losing control of data?
Google's new cloud computing ChromeOS looks like a plan "to push people into careless computing" by forcing them to store their data in the cloud rather than on machines directly under their control, warns Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the operating system GNU.
Two years ago Stallman, a computing veteran who is a strong advocate of free software via his Free Software Foundation, warned that making extensive use of cloud computing was "worse than stupidity" because it meant a loss of control of data.
Now he says he is increasingly concerned about the release by Google of its ChromeOS operating system, which is based on GNU/Linux and designed to store the minimum possible data locally. Instead it relies on a data connection to link to Google's "cloud" of servers, which are at unknown locations, to store documents and other information.
The risks include loss of legal rights to data if it is stored on a company's machine's rather than your own, Stallman points out: "In the US, you even lose legal rights if you store your data in a company's machines instead of your own. The police need to present you with a search warrant to get your data from you; but if they are stored in a company's server, the police can get it without showing you anything. They may not even have to give the company a search warrant."
Google gave ChromeOS a "soft" launch last week, showing off aspects of the software and providing developers and some journalists with Cr-48 laptops set up to run it, while saying that it won't be widely available until mid-2011.
Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, praised it in a blogpost: "For me, these announcements were among the most important of my working life – demonstrating the real power of computer science to transform people's lives. It's extraordinary how very complex platforms can produce beautifully simple solutions like Chrome and Chrome OS, which anyone can use from the get-go – as long as you get it right," he wrote. "As developers start playing with our beta Cr-48 Chrome OS computer, they'll see that while it's still early days it works unbelievably well. You can build everything that you used to mix and match with client software—taking full advantage of the capacity of the web."
But Stallman is unimpressed. "I think that marketers like "cloud computing" because it is devoid of substantive meaning. The term's meaning is not substance, it's an attitude: 'Let any Tom, Dick and Harry hold your data, let any Tom, Dick and Harry do your computing for you (and control it).' Perhaps the term 'careless computing' would suit it better."
He sees a creeping problem: "I suppose many people will continue moving towards careless computing, because there's a sucker born every minute. The US government may try to encourage people to place their data where the US government can seize it without showing them a search warrant, rather than in their own property. However, as long as enough of us continue keeping our data under our own control, we can still do so. And we had better do so, or the option may disappear."
The accountability of cloud computing providers has come under close focus in the past fortnight after Amazon removed Wikileaks content from its EC2 cloud computing service, saying that the leaks site had breached its terms and conditions, and without offering any mediation in the dispute.
Stallman only sees one aspect of ChromeOS to applaud: its GNU/Linux heritage. "In essence, Chrome OS is the GNU/Linux operating system. However, it is delivered without the usual applications, and rigged up to impede and discourage installing applications," he told the Guardian. "I'd say the problem is in the nature of the job ChromeOS is designed to do. Namely, encourage you to keep your data elsewhere, and do your computing elsewhere, instead of doing it in your own computer."
• Stallman warns would-be hackers not to download the LOIC software being pushed as a method of expressing anger with sites that have acted against Wikileaks - not because he thinks the protest is wrong, but because the tool's code is not visible to the user. "It seems to me that running LOIC is the network equivalent of the protests against the tax-avoiders' stores in London. We must not allow that to constrict the right to protest," he notes. "[But] if users can't recompile it, users should not trust it."
The above article was originally published at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/dec/14/chrome-os-richard-stallman-warning