I’ve seen the future of the Internet, and it does not involve centralized services like Live.com and Google.
Why not? One of the biggest and most important reasons for this is that these kinds of huge centralized services take control away from the user. Control over various things, such as property, content and privacy, just to name a few. It’s been proven again and again that users cannot possibly trust organizations offering such centralized services with their information.
Even if these organizations have good intentions, there are many ways in which they can be forced to eventually “break their promises” towards their users. And when you realize that these organizations are mostly just corporations, and when you also realize that corporations just look at their own financial/business interests and that of their shareholders, you have no choice but to realize that the users will always suffer the consequences of those priorities.
For example, these organizations can be forced to disclose user information by governments around the world, even though they all say they value the privacy of their users. We’ve recently seen how Google was forced to give data to the Brazilian court. And even the US government and China have demanded private user information in the past. Not long ago, the US government demanded search information from Google, MSN and Yahoo.
You have to realize that one day, among the data that these organizations are disclosing, your private data might also be included. That data might include all searches you ever did including keywords of what you were looking for, the search results you visited, your private user information, financial transactions you did, your email, records of your instant messaging sessions etc. etc.
And you never know what the people getting all this data might do with it. You cannot possibly begin to imagine how much they can get to know about you when they get this kind of data into their hands. With the very sophisticated data mining technologies they have available right now, they could use this data for a variety of things.
Notice for example, how Live.com and Google now encourage users to sign in before they use Search and any other services on those networks. Yesterday I tried doing a simple search on Live.com, and was presented with a Sign-In page before I actually could view any results. Why was that necessary? It is necessary when you want to track and save the behavior of the user over a long period of time.
Apart from the big privacy risks, these organizations can also control what gets published on their news websites and blogging websites and what doesn’t. I wrote before about Microsoft admitting that they censor information, and perhaps you can still remember Google censoring information on it’s blogging network. Even Yahoo has done these things already in the past. It even seemed at one time that Google was even blacking out certain information from it’s cache of webpages.
In a similar way, services like Google Video and YouTube encourage users to give all their content to them. But once the user’s content gets on these services, they effectively own it. They can do with it whatever they want, and they can decide what gets published and what gets taken down. If the Chinese government one day doesn’t like a video on YouTube containing certain information, you can bet that YouTube is going to have to take it down AND provide the Chinese government with full details of who published it and who watched it.
Don’t you find it annoying that you can’t save the videos you download on Google Video and YouTube to your hard disk, and watch them offline? I keep asking myself, are these companies so glad to keep wasting their bandwidth? Why can I not save a video I downloaded and share it on my home network for others to watch? Why must I send others in my own home or organization a link to the video, and have them download the entire video all over again, wasting not only my bandwidth, but also that of the service provider and my ISP? Again, the idea here is that you should not be able to do it. It’s THEIR content now, and the purpose is to force you to go to their website and get it from them when you want to watch it. When they want to take down certain content, it’s also a lot easier this way.
And soon, these guys are going to be introducing online storage. Microsoft’s version is called LiveDrive, and Google’s is called GDrive. The idea here, again, is to give them and trust them with all your data. You should be seriously concerned with your privacy if you ever decide to make use of these services. Like I said before, once your data is in their hands, they are free to do whatever they want with it, no matter what they promise you. They can be “forced” to break their promises to you. Perhaps most of the time, you’ll not even know what they are doing with it, and who they are giving access to it, until it is already too late.
A good example of this is the US government and the CIA using Swift data to spy on people. As you may know, all global financial transactions go through a central location called Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications). For a long while now, the CIA, FBI and perhaps many other organizations in other countries had access to all this data. And you can see what they are using it for as well: Spying on people. Remember that all this data is supposed to be confidential and private.
Let me also remind you of the fact that the NSA in cooperation with AT&T has been getting full access to phone conversations in real time, and were using that to spy on people. Did you know about this before it took place? No, you got to know about it after months when it was already too late. And who tells you they stopped doing it? Answer: They didn’t. And you can bet they are doing a lot more with your data that you don’t know about. They’re even using this to spy on all Internet traffic. It would not surprise me one bit if Microsoft, Yahoo and Google were secretly working with organizations like the CIA or other governmental organizations and giving them access to private data. Just read my interview with Professor Ross Anderson where he mentions how Microsoft, among other companies, has a special unit assisting the government to take advantage of security vulnerabilities in their software.
Now, I could go on and on telling you about the disadvantages of using these services, and naming examples. There is so much more to tell and talk about. But most of this you can find yourself if you do your own research and start looking for and paying attention to the right information. What it looks like to me, is that there is a global trend of centralizing these kinds of services where managing user data (private, behavioral, content etc.) is involved. The reason for them to want this, is that it will make it so much easier to gain access to all this data once it is centralized, so they can use it to monitor and spy on people around the world. Not only that, but they will also be able to control what gets published and which information is available to the users around the world. They could effectively erase certain events from history, or completely rewrite it if they wanted to.
All of the above, and more, is why I believe that the future of the Internet will be decided by Peer to Peer (P2P) systems. They are a LOT more efficient, and have many more advantages, one important one being that it puts the users in control. When you see the stories in the news everyday about the RIAA and the MPAA attacking P2P services, there is a lot more at stake than you possibly realize. This is not just about piracy, even though that’s what they put the emphasis on. The real reasons for attacking P2P have more to do with the distributed and decentralized nature of it (making it impossible to control), and the inherent freedom because of its design. Having read all of the above, it should be easy to understand why the people in control don’t like it.
I don’t see a future where my email arrives and is being stored at an email server at my ISP, or at some email provider such as Hotmail or Gmail. I see a future where my email gets delivered directly to my computer before it is in readable form. Every step along the way to my computer, it is encrypted and basically useless to others. The same goes for instant messaging.
I don’t see a future where people publish their movies to a website like Google Video or YouTube for others to watch. I see a future where users publish their movies on their own computer, harness the power of the P2P network, and make it available to millions of others to watch. The same goes for blogging. I’ll be publishing my blog on my own computer and serve my posts to millions of others through the P2P network in a very efficient way. The same goes for news and any other information. Censorship will not be possible.
I don’t see a future where I need services like LiveDrive and GDrive to store my documents so that I can access them from another country when I am on vacation. I see a future where I can privately store my data on the P2P network and be able to access my documents, my email and any other data from anywhere, whenever I want, without having to worry about security issues.
The system will enable me to have complete control over my own content at all times, having it right on my own computer if I want to. The system will make sure nobody can possibly find out who I am on the network, or which information I published, unless I want them to know. The system will give every user complete freedom over what he wants to publish and make available to others. It will have no central point of failure. And it will not be possible to block/censor certain content, without effectively shutting down access to all of it. This will all be by design.
I don’t see a future where you will have a lot of distinction between client and server software. I see a future where the client software will also be the server software. The same software I’ll use to get content, will be the software I use to publish my own content. And they will mostly run on the same computer(s).
The Internet of the future is going to be much more distributed, much more powerful, and it will serve the user even more than it does today.