This week humanities scholar Slavoj Žižek weighed in on some of the dangers of increasing corporate control of the cloud computing ecosystem—more specifically, the monopolistic way this control manifests in the face of constant consolidation of information, hardware and software sources.
In Žižek’s words, “The formation of clouds is accompanied by a process of vertical integration: a single company or corporation will increasingly have a stake at all levels of the cyberworld, from individual machines and the cloud hardware for program and data storage, to software in all its forms…everything thus becomes accessible, but only as mediated through a company that owns it all—software, hardware, content and computers.”
While he is careful to extoll the key benefits access to critical software and hardware resources remotely, in total, the way this system is function is akin to a restrictive, authoritarian state where media access is limited by the decisions of a key few.
In this argument, the few that are in power are not rooted in government, but in private companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others. Žižek warns that these corporate controllers manage not only the software itself but its delivery, pricing paradigms and content selection and are therefore being granted incredible, if not not inherently dangerous power.
Žižek points to Apple as a particularly ripe example of this corporate consolidation of clouds, noting that the company owns the primary hardware devices (iPhones, iPads, and so on) and beyond that, it also owns the content and its delivery via iTunes. Furthermore, Apple is branching out in its content empire following a recent deal with newspaper giant Rupert Murdoch. Apple will now be a news source due to this partnership.
As he stated in his article, “Steve Jobs is no better than Bill Gates; whether it be Apple or Microsoft, global access is increasingly grounded in the virtually monopolistic privatization of the cloud which provides this access. The more an individual user is given access to universal public space, the more that space is privatized.”
A key part of this movement toward increased monopolization of cloud computing is the fact that users are being presented with the constant message that they are moving toward limitless personalization of both their hardware and software. As it stands there are hundreds of ways to make hardware and the select applications that it runs in tune with individual purposes. However, as the scholar argues, this sense of personalization is somewhat misleading.
Žižek claims that “for the user experience to become more personalized or non-alienated, it has to be regulated and controlled by an alienated network.” It is this paradox that is driving clouds into nearly every aspect of our personal lives (email, personalized applications, etc.) while at the same herding us all into a neat box that is increasingly devoid of personalization and choice.