An article in The Guardian features the comments of Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, who has some ugly things to say about Google’s new ChromeOS operating system. A few years ago, Stallman warned that making use of cloud-based computing was "worse than stupidity" because it put user data in the hands of those that operated the servers.
This week he is calling Google’s ChromeOS a scheme to "push people into careless computing" by forcing them to save a minimum amount of data locally. He also says that he is deeply concerned because it takes private data and puts it out into the "cloud," which law enforcement agencies in the United States have easier access to:
"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."
Chrome had a "soft launch" last week, which Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, got pretty excited about:
"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."
Stallman remains 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 also warns that freedoms may be at stake if people continue to move towards what he calls "careless computing":
"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."