The virtual world is painted as an invisible environment that we do not see or touch, but which in reality is very palpable. The Cloud, or The Clouds, seem to be empty spaces located somewhere we do not know or understand where they are, but it is closer than we think.
The Cloud is not a cushy place. Moreover, it is not even in heaven. It is anchored in the Earth and composed of thousands of computers connected to each other.
The Cloud is material, you can see and touch it. Inside is nothing more than hundreds of shelves, all the size of a refrigerator, full of powerful servers where millions of data flow 24 hours a day.
On this site, most of our digital life is stored. Emails, photographs, bank details, our favorite applications and a host of information that we leave as a trail every time we connect to the web.
The Cloud is also used by companies, by stores that sell shoes online, your favorite pizza joint, the real estate portal whose physical office is around the corner…
The Cloud is a planet-like ecosystem of companies with their idiosyncrasies. Not everyone can enter this cloud, although its security system is not impenetrable.
To access the different rooms where there are more than 14,000 servers with a capacity of 11 petabytes -equivalent to about 180 years of high definition video- you have to sometimes cross, among other security systems, a biometric recognition control.
In this cloud there is information of more than 100,000 companies, with 350,000 domains, a million email accounts and 150,000 websites. All a virtual world where your life resides.
The physical place that houses The Cloud is fit with large cooling towers to keep the servers at a stable temperature of about 24 degrees Celsius.
In case of any serious mishap, such as a natural disaster, the infrastructure can be maintained without electricity for three days, thanks to the hundreds of batteries and several diesel-powered generators.
The priority is to protect the companies’ cloud, a tool that has become a key element in the digital transformation we are all experiencing.
Today, a growing number of companies are joining this revolution and have decided to put the data they handle into the hands of the experts, so that such information is always available.
The cloud provides many advantages for any company. This technology is absolutely necessary in an increasingly connected world.
People are now digital beings in their day-to-day, which forces companies to transform, change and evolve in order to remain competitive. Being present in The Cloud is the best way to do so.
Moving information to the cloud is a critical step, but currently a necessary one. Companies that already use this technology have radically changed the traditional way of doing business and relating to customers.
Globally, companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google moved their operations almost solely to The Cloud as a way to force their customers to adopt their new way of relating to their brands.
One of the key aspects is that The Cloud has brought technologies and capabilities that until now could only be accessed by large companies.
It brings agility, flexibility, and cost savings, since heavy investments are not required.
The Fear of being constantly surveilled
No one in the history of the world ever planned to be in a relationship or connected with machines, however, that is the reality today.
While people sought to use technology to stay in touch with loved ones and friends, companies determined that people would instead relate to machines, robots and AI systems that do as much as talk to users as if they were real humans.
Companies now use data science to run something known as a “recommendation system”, which seeks to predict your personal tastes compared to those of other users.
We all have a limited number of preferences and combinations of them. For example, if I buy pencil and paper, it is foreseeable that the system will offer me a combo that also includes the eraser and a case, because this is what most people usually buy.
The customization of a user’s experience has been done by Amazon, Google and Facebook for many years.
The development of recommendation algorithms, therefore, is a very active and fundamental research area for these companies. Apart from not stop recommending things, they also offer us sophisticated products for communication, search and information management. But nothing is free.
You are now a product, not the customer
The currency with which we pay for all this is invaluable information about ourselves. Because if you do not pay for the product, the product is you.
Your information is combined with that of other users and allows the algorithms to train each time with more and better data to make increasingly personalized recommendations.
If they give you everything you want, it’s difficult to disengage, right? And if on top of that they don’t charge you a penny, the payment form is surely your own life. Huge data companies like Google or Facebook sell your data to third parties, who in turn will try to sell you their products.
Even worse is that the limit of personal privacy is increasingly blurred. As much as they have attempted to regulate the activity of large technology companies over the years, the invasion of privacy seems to be justified for their owners. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt of Google think so.
We now know that Google records every single bit of data that comes out of any cellphone, even if it does not have a SIM card. A few months ago we discovered that if it is not Google, then it is the software preinstalled on Android that indiscriminately watches Android-based users.
In 2017, Chamath Palihapitiya, former executive of Facebook, confessed that they had created such invasive tools that were destroying the pillars of our society.
Knowing all this and that those who spend more time on social networks are more prone to depression, it is understandable that even Elon Musk has removed social networks from his personal life.
The violation of privacy is common everyday. In February we learned that the Nest Guard, a security system designed for homes, had been manufactured with a hidden microphone since 2017, but according to Google “never had the intention to use it”.
The same was said when they discovered hidden cameras in airplanes. Both American Airlines and Singapore Airlines defended themselves alleging that they would never be operative and that “Panasonic manufactured them into their aircraft”.
On the one hand we live connected, but we want to be connected to other people and not necessarily to machines that record each of our movements.
The Psychological effects of continuous surveillance
The problem is not whether you have something to hide, even if you decide to believe that you do not care. The real problem of being spied on is the psychological effect that such a reality has because it ends up conditioning all our behavior.
This was well understood by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) who designed circular prisons where the individual cells looked to a central watchtower, a “panopticon”.
As the tower’s windows had shutters, it did not matter that there was vigilance: the fear of being watched is enough to control you. For this same reason, you do not skip a red light on a deserted street at four in the morning.
Within the modern panopticon that is the internet, and as short-term solutions within a larger problem, there are less invasive browsers, more secure messaging systems and email services and search engines that do not record each of your movements.
A few names that offer a much better option than their traditional competitors are the Tor web browser, gab.com, as a substitute to Twitter, minds.com as an alternative to Facebook and startpage.com to replace Google. It is a good idea to abandon Gmail and instead open an account on StartMail.
The most important thing is to understand that intimacy is not something binary, but that we can regulate it in many degrees and decide how much we want the world to know about us.
Renouncing your fundamental right to privacy, autonomy, exploring new ideas and being creative, even if only in the privacy of your own bedroom, is to condemn yourself to your own dehumanization.