Say ‘digital assets’ and instantly eyes glaze, in a way wearily familiar to those of us who try and interest our friends and family in the details of the technologies we all rely on. And the deafening media roar over the revelations about PRISM and the operations of the US NSA, not to mention the UK’s own GCHQ, is the sound of those same people, in their millions, waking up.
We’ve argued, along with many others, the importance of realising we all have to be our own curators now, whether professionally or personally. And there are undoubtedly very serious questions to be answered about the role of a country’s security forces in a digital age; about the relationship between commercial organisations and Government; about the ownership and control of the social communication infrastructure that billions of people use throughout their lives; about the impact of these ‘revelations’ on the way people and organisations adjust to the crowd sourcing, communication, collaboration and resource mobilisation opportunities these technologies offer. And as our colleague Katharine Hone discusses, there are some particular questions for Diplomats. None of these questions are new but it’s unfortunate, to say the least, that they are now, suddenly, being addressed in such a heated context, unlikely to produce optimal responses.
One of the facts that alarms people is the extent to which we rely on cloud services, another eye glazer of a term. Even more alarming is the realisation that there are few options, a point well put by John Naughton in an Observer article:
“But when I raised Tim Wu’s recommendation that users should therefore boycott Google and co, the atmosphere changed. The idea of not using Google for search seems unthinkable to most people. My respondents could live without Google Docs, but most thought that webmail was essential. Older people might be able to live without YouTube, but nobody under the age of 25 could. For many, Skype has become a personal lifeline for keeping in touch with distant friends and family members. iPhone and iPad users were appalled at the idea of having to give up their toys. And one person declared that he would sooner shoot himself than go back to using Microsoft Windows”.
People are thinking about alternatives, as shown by this fascinating wiki on Personal Clouds. A related issue is the extent to which these services operate from geographical locations, which means that they are subject to the laws of that nation, and in the case of the digital behemoths that dominate the English-speaking Internet spaces, that means the US. The issue came up, as it would, during Diplo’s recent Geneva e-participation Day. We were interested in how people perceived the issue so posted a quick Twtpoll.
What do you think?
Note: image updated 22/6/2013 to reflect latest information