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Captives of the Cloud: Part I

We are the voluntary prisoners of the cloud; we are being watched over by governments we did not elect.

Wael Ghonim, Google's Egyptian executive, said: “If you want to liberate a society just give them the internet.” But how does one liberate a society that already has the internet? In a society permanently connected through pervasive broadband networks, the shared internet is, bit by bit and piece by piece, overshadowed by the “cloud.”

The cloud, as a planetary-scale infrastructure, was first made possible by an incremental rise in computing power, server space, and trans-continental fiber-optic connectivity. It is a by-product and parallel iteration of the global (information) economy, enabling a digital (social) marketplace on a worldwide scale. Many of the cloud’s most powerful companies no longer use the shared internet, but build their own dark fiber highways for convenience, resilience, and speed. In the cloud’s architecture of power, the early internet is eclipsed.

A nondescript diagram in a 1996 MIT research paper titled “The Self-governing Internet: Coordination by Design,” showed a “cloud” of networks situated between routers linked up by Internet Protocol (IP). This was the first reported usage of the term “cloud” in relation to the internet. The paper talked about a “confederation” of networks governed by common protocol. A 2001 New York Times article reported that Microsoft’s .NET software programs did not reside on any one computer, “but instead exist in the ‘cloud’ of computers that make up the internet.” But it wasn’t until 2004 that the notion of “cloud computing” was defined by Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

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