Stallman: cloud computing is a trap

MJ Ray mjr at
Mon Oct 6 09:21:43 UTC 2008

"Thomas Pfeffer" <thomas.pfeffer at> wrote:
> Matthias Kirschner was so kind to invite me to this list and share my
> comments on Stallman: "Cloud computing is a trap".

Welcome.  I include my answers to some questions in-line below.  Could
you correct your flow/line-length, please?  I got very long lines
here, which is a pain to reformat before replying.

> 3) who provides and controls web-applications? There are at least three
> different types of providers, that offer applications to individual
> users: the individual nerd, who is able to maintain a webserver for
> his own use, a traditional institution (e.g. university or employer),
> who provides the application to its members, or specialised web-hosts,
> who provides the application to any customer.

Another type of provider is a web-application user cooperative: groups
of users gathering together to employ people who can maintain a
webserver and application(s) for them.  There are currently very few
of these and all the ones I know about serve limited communities.
It's not difficult to start one and local Cooperative Development
Agents will probably advise.  Follow links of

> 4) Not being able to maintain my own web-applications (lack of technical
> competence), I only have the choice between the traditional institution
> I am member of (my employer) or different web-hosts. Whom do I have
> to be more afraid of? My employer, who e.g. might want to check my
> private emails without my knowledge, or my web-host, who e.g. might
> start to charge me in some years?

As I understand it, by EU law, employers have to allow reasonable
private use of personal (rather than role-based) email addresses, just
like they have to allow telephone calls.  They can lock it down, but
it must not be "without my knowledge".

One of the big problems with Big Webmail is that they are often in a
foreign country, governed by sometimes very weak privacy laws, and
sometimes with even weaker privacy terms that people are required to
accept before they get an email address: Googlemail's terms are
particularly vague, with words like "including ..." rather than
"consisting of ..." so users can't be sure exactly what will be done
with their email.  Yahoo has passed emails to users' governments. I
think the Green Party of England and Wales have called for people to
stop using Goo/Y!/MS - when it comes to electronic freedom, the Greens
seem to lead the way (bizarrely IMO).

> 5) I admit, I am worried myself about the intransparency and the lack
> of control over hosted web-services. But on the other hand, I also feel
> strongly tempted about the opportunities, conveniences (and freedoms)
> they offer to me, or to communities of people. They allow me to do
> things I could not do otherwise.

Yes, network effects.  However, in entering their walled garden, you
encourage others to enter for the same reasons, and many of them will
be less aware/able to leave again.

> 6) Basically, I think Stallman argues from the perspective of a computer
> specialist, who is able to control and maintain any web-application
> himself. [...]

No!  Maintain maybe, but control is within all our power!  It's a
question of what price one puts on it.  In the UK, one can join the
Phone Co-op (disclosure: I am a member and work for agent AG_471
through ) and you'll pay a small premium,
get webmail (squirrelmail), but have a share of control.  Other web
co-ops exist.  Membership is independent of who you work for.

> [...] I wonder if it would be possible for the FSFE to define
> criteria for identifying web-applications (and providers) that are
> no trap, that allow even average users to keep control. How could
> trustworthy web-applications and web-services look like? What is good
> practice for a web host? Is there room for public, non-proprietary
> systems of web-services and how should they look like?

It might be possible, but cooperation is in how they behave, not what
licences they use.

However, FSF have fallen into a trap of licence-gazing and have
published the terrible AfferoGPLv3.  AGPLv3 is hazardous to charities
and cooperatives - even if the lawyerbombs resolve in the best
possible ways, it pushes up costs of these marginal providers because
of the sins of Big-Webmail-like providers.  This is especially ironic
given the increasing use of proprietary webapps by FSF projects.  I
fear FSFE would not dare to criticise FSF's Affero-advocacy, so could
not be relied upon to identify non-trap providers reliably.

Look for web cooperatives that are validated by ICA or its members and
then check if they share the code and control as they should.

Hope that helps,
MJ Ray (slef)
Webmaster for hire, statistician and online shop builder for a small
worker cooperative
(Notice tel:+44-844-4437-237

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