90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
From Desktop to the Digital Cloud
A jet fly-by kicks off the aerial festivities celebrating the launch of the new T-Mobile myTouch 3G phone with Google's Android operating system, in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 5, 2009. (AP)

A jet fly-by kicks off the aerial festivities celebrating the launch of the new T-Mobile myTouch 3G phone with Google's Android operating system, in San Francisco on Wednesday, August 5, 2009. (AP)

“Cloud computing” sounds exotic, but it’s becoming absolutely commonplace.

All kinds of computer activity that used to happen in your home or office, on your PC’s local software, is instead happening online. On the Web. In the “cloud.”

Your digital address book is probably there. Your calendar. Your digital photos. And soon, much more — maybe all — of the computing you do will happen far from your desktop. On Internet server farms. In the cloud.

Google and Microsoft are battling there. And a lot more than money may be at stake.

This hour, On Point: Cloud computing and you.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Joining us from Cambridge, Mass., is Jonathan Zittrain, professor at Harvard Law School, co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and author of “The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It.” In a recent op-ed piece for The New York Times, titled “Lost in the Cloud,” he argued that cloud computing “comes with real dangers.”

And joining us from San Francisco is Kara Swisher, technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal and co-executive editor of All Things Digital, a website owned by Dow Jones covering technology, the Internet and media.


In a guest post on the On Point blog, Jonathan Zittrain explains why he’s still worried — despite Kara Swisher’s and others’ “utterly reasonable optimism.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.bevynews.com Babu Priyavrat

    why the organizations like google dont allow end users to control their data on cloud like webhosting services?

  • pm

    Having all one’s info on the web is like opening your doors wide, inviting all the robbers over for tea.

  • http://www.beagleresearch.com Denis Pombriant

    I am an industry researcher, analyst and blogger and have covered this topic for ten years. I find interesting that you have limited the discussion to an academic and a WSJ reporter and that you are focusing on the so-called dangers of cloud computing. There are important and powerful forces at work pushing cloud computing and while there may be dangers if CC is not handled right, it would be nice to have as part of the discussion the real advantages it offers. For example, in the developing world CC is an absolute boon to business formation and entrepreneurship because one of the greatest costs of business formation is contained by CC. This is especially true for technology companies forming in the developing world.

    Denis Pombriant
    Beagle Research Group, LLC

  • mkw

    If we have to keep everything up in the Cloud. How will we overcome bandwidth limits from the ISP’s? Cloud access will become very expensive. Especially in this economy.

  • http://www.westhillcounsel.com Louise Leduc Kennedy

    The issue that I find most interesting as a technology law practiitioner is”who is responsible for maintaining your data?” — and accordingly “who might be liable for giving access to an unauthorized user or inadvertent deletion of your data?”

    Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and others all disclaim liability for loss or misuse of data. This is a major issue for both individuals and business utilizing this technology.

  • Matt

    This is fine if you have a strong Internet connection. My home network goes down every not and then, and by this method I would lose access to my own docs and work periodically. How would I be sure I have access at all times?

  • Joe in Oxford, CT.

    How come no one has brought up what Amazon just did with it’s Kindle product and the deletion of purchased copies of 1984 without users permissions because of a dispute between Amazon and the publisher ?? This is a perfect example of cloud computing gone bad.


  • Babu Priyavrat

    what I understand from the discussion is cloud computing provided by organizations are controlling and try to control the internet which are against the chapters of internet violating net neutrality.

    I understand in future, there is a need of independent organization which makes sure that organizations dont held the net,the app and the privacy their hostage.
    Every system has loopholes and bugs, it’s just we need a check system which maintains all kinds of neutrality and also answers privacy.

    What I need from Zonathan is how it can be achieved?
    Citrix could be one answer.

  • Lowell

    What about folks like me that travel to Asia with weak internet links and extreme govt censorship?
    How do I stay connected to my USA based cloud?
    Great show by the way

  • Phil Bornemeier

    I have found every web-enabled/cloud application of reasonable complexity to perform much, much slower when compared to the equivalent software installed at a local machine. The speed hit is as much a concern to me as the lack of security and the ease in which the manufacturer of the software could disable my software, or decide to charge for its use.

  • Jeff Sawyer

    Spam, viruses, HACKERS have insinuated themselves into all aspects of on-line computing. With cloud computing, the user abdicates his responsibility for data protection and turns it over to the cloud manager. If a casual user loses his picture album or his home inventory or any other kind of mundane data due to a cloud manager’s ineptness, only the casual user and perhaps his immediate circle of acquaintances are harmed. An enterprise using the cloud (whether public or private), however, that loses its data impacts all customers of that enterprise. Personal data has been mined in all sorts of devious ways from “secure” networks — Department of Defense, Google, Microsoft, Symantec, just to name a few. Organizations that are in the data-protection business can’t protect themselves from attacks. One last point, with enough funding, anyone can setup a cloud entity, offer a deal that is too good to be true, and encourage small to medium businesses to join and expose anyone that does business with them to the security holes that will surely exist with such a “fly-by-night” enterprise.

  • Greg L

    Yea Tom, what Denis said!

    You’re totally glossing over the privacy implications, as if there is no serious possibility for crime or malfeasance just because the user agreement looks fine.

  • Aaron Seidman

    I’m having a sense of deja vu. Once people used terminals hooked to a central computer that held all the software and stored one’s data. We called it time sharing…

  • mrwakiki

    A lot of trust in the cloud.

    If you are using Google Docs and have your personal/company documents there, you have to trust

    a) don’t get shared
    b) google doesn’t lock them up and say you have to buy a subscription

    Mr. Wakiki

  • http://blog.astaro.com Tim Cronin

    Tim From Wilmington here:

    The phone disconnected and I wasn’t able to hear the responses to my comment about “private cloud”. My basic point, though, is that to reap the benefits of cloud computing, it is not necessary to give your data to large, offsite vendors. You can keep control of the chain of custody and you will still be able to manage your information infrastructure locally.

  • http://na Benjamin Weber

    This “cloud” computing concept strikes me as identical to the ASP (Application Service Providor) model that was trendy ten years ago. That largely failed. What’s different about cloud computing now and what will keep it from failing for the same reasons?

  • Brian

    When will Google make Google Health HIPAA compliant? Such a valuable service but not until they abide by the law.

  • Bernhard

    Cloud Computing, without radical changes, will be the best thing for 1984-style control of our society.

    Not only privacy but ownership of data, authenticity of data; misuse of data and archival issues of data become fundamental constitutional concerns.

    Please keep that WSJ person away from me. She is a real threat to society. Corporate shill come to mind.

    Wish this debate could happen outside of work hours though.

  • Sam

    Should “cloud” laws be created that require use of OpenDocument Format (designed to protect a document for use for 100 years), and other FREE formats, so that users can freely move data between cloud providers. Should we have laws that allow for mandatory support of open codecs and other format, to be make standards by law, etc as well?

    A sad scenerio is that you have some documents stored in the cloud and there is a proprietary format change, and the cloud provider “converts” all your documents to the new proprietary format (and then your data is in a jail that you can not leave).

    We would like to move OpenDocument format documents from PC created OpenOffice.org, up to the cloud to share and collaborate with, and then move the documents back down to the PC, freely – where we can have the same document unchanged and usable for the next 10-20 years.

    Free Choice is needed, and should we have laws that create this freedom.

  • Jeff Farber

    What are the economic manifest destinies involved here? Is this cloud business a means for Google, etc to consolidate their bottom line by centralizing more and more information. The point that was made that now IT services can be outsourced and too bad for the local IT staff really goes to the core of this issue.

  • Gordon

    To say “software is dead” is overstating the case, I think. Cloud computing will probably take its place next to other technologies. It will be good for some things, but not others.

  • Sherm

    Your guests seem to not know much about the architecture of cloud computing. What they propose is having to lock in to one provider for all one’s computational services, whereas “open” cloud computing would distribute computational requirements to ANY available resource. Vendors like Google, Microsoft and others will not let this happen!
    Also, if there remain any local (PC) computational requirements – either for security or some other reason – there is no justification, cost wise, for availing oneself of the cloud.
    Finally, Microsoft updating PC software by allowing a user to download code is NOT cloud computing…it is what we used to call RSUF: Remote Software Update Facility.

  • Jylene Livengood

    Hmm. Listening and, once again, Amazon and 1984 came up. I know this is a digression but I’ve heard this so OFTEN I had to comment. Why on EARTH do people continue to use a brick and mortar, physical model for that incident? (deletion of unlicensed, illegal material from what is essentially a leased cloud app). Why on EARTH is a brick and mortar model being used for what is more closely related to the Napster music file sharing cases? It’s perfectly fair to debate whether people can hold and share files distributed without payment or accreditation, but let’s at least debate the issue on its ACTUAL merits instead of a specious precursor that doesn’t apply. The day the police start taking away counterfeit Gucci purses on the streets of New York will be the day that the 1984 case resembles brick and mortar books and property seizure. Until then, people, it doesn’t matter that the format resembles a book. It’s a FILE shared over a service. Lets’ discuss it that way.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    It’s hard to expect the government to address the bandwidth issue when many members of congress think the internet is a series of tubes.

  • Greg

    Having lived and programmed through the formative years of the computer age I remember the old server/dumb terminal systems which in some sense emulate the “cloud” concept.

    I’m certainly very concerned about the security/privacy aspect (I have to laugh at the way we blithely give up our privacy today), but also net cost to individual and business end users.

    Right now I can purchase say MS Office and run it on my business network until at some point I want more features, or it is no longer supported by the underlying operating system. I may want to just keep the old version because it is more stable! My software costs are somewhat fixed over a set period of times, in some cases years.

    Under the cloud model, I lose control.

    MS decides when to change/upgrade, at what I assume is an additional cost. You might say I can take my business elsewhere, but not when I have thousands of documents, spreadsheets, etc. all in MS Office.

    What protects the end user in this model from ever more variable costs if the “product” the software produces is proprietary in nature?

  • F. William Bracy

    Of course it would take a Wall Street Journal reporter to “cheerlead” us into the first catastrophic mistake of the 21st century. With the development of this all-encompassing “digital cloud,” Tom, we are now entering the telecom industry’s Enron moment. I have only one word for Ms. Swisher: THIMK. Bandwidth is expensive, and as far as the telecom industry is concerned the more expensive the better. You’re saying it’s a good thing to squeeze everyone – even a lonely writer who agonizes over a paragraph for 15 minutes – to sit there taking up bandwidth while he sits and thimks? Like … standalone software is going away? Maybe typewriters are coming back.

    But then it’s only money, isn’t it, Tom? No problem, one would guess, for a Wall Street Journal reporter. Show me someone who still reads the WSJ and I’ll show you someone who is living off of the J. Paul Getty Fortune.

    Thank heavens you had someone on the program who really understands the problem… thank God for the professor. This thing is thought through about as thoroughly as the George Bush “Terrorist Surveillance Program” that resulted in governmental spying on millions of innocent Americans, which, by the way, would not have been possible without the cooperation of the telecom companies. As for Ms. Swisher I think immediately of Scarlett O’Hara: “I can’t think about that right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”

    Notice how Ms. Swisher retreated from her position when several of the thorniest points were made, like what happens to sensitive data when a company goes out of business? (Scarlett O’Hara) And also points not made, like the wireless transmission of sensitive data which could become a necessity in some instances? (Scarlett O’Hara)

    Money does funny things, Tom, and the telecom industry is next in showing us what happens when we concentrate on a word that begins with “g” and ends with “d” and sounds like greed. If you don’t believe it, ask Alan Greenspan, the man who was so totally shocked by the idea that just because mountains of money were involved, people wouldn’t act to in their own best interest. 1984? Oh, yes. The mere mention of Orwell’s classic was actually the highlight of this show.

    Rue the day when this digital cloud becomes the be all and end all that Ms. Swisher claims it will. There are too many folks out there who would do us harm, and I have no doubt that the foreign “smarties” out there with their greater emphasis on education can keep one step ahead of us as we contemplate floating our lives and our security blithely toward the heavens.

  • pm

    Yes, FM BRacy! Why did I ever get rid of my beautiful typewriter?
    Which is really sort of the whole point. I think this whole electronic/computer revolution will soon become a memory in the face of deep recession. Real jobs, real machines, real people to make them (not robots), real food (not chemical), real humans making real music (not machines), and on and on…..the plastic (no Benjamin, it may have been some form of the future, but not the one that isn’t a nightmare)….including plastic people with fake faces, hair and bodies……will become the past. Because industry and simplicity, natural technology that doesn’t harm the planet….these either will take precedence, or we will most likely see things that should not even be uttered much less thought of.

  • pm

    ….and people are fast being reminded that we have so much choice. We do not need some idiot computer to give us directions, we don’t need the internet to communicate with our friends and family, we don’t need cyber networks to meet people or get jobs. Life will continue as it always has….because no one can afford to buy all the gadgets anymore (finally!). And those with the cash will realize that businesses that succeed will address the basics of human need first. All the fabricated appeal presented en masse that has kept our culture hostage in our emotions and our pocketbooks for so long will fade away like a bad dream.
    I for one have great hope and confidence in our country, culture, world and future.

  • http://www.wfpl.org Byron Songer

    I found the whole program wanting. Remember the commercial? Where’s the beef? Maybe for those who’s first computer experience is a smart phone this was a good discussion. For someone that uses a computer with standalone OS on a daily basis accessing the Internet, a local network and/or drive(s) on one’s own host system this was another program that lacked depth. Discusssion? Yes. Depth? No.

  • http://teatime.msk.su Nick

    I’m listening to this and wondering: haven’t you ever heard of GNU and Linux??

  • David Eddy

    The performance hit–e.g. the application is MUCH slower–is very real.

    I’m in sales & use the poster child of cloud computing, Salesforce.

    By the nature of what I do, I’m constantly flipping back & forth. Hence I end up staring at either a blank page or the page I’m trying to leave, a LOT.

    Net result is it’s very hard to concentrate, since the dear ol’ brain tends to wander after a pause of a few seconds.

  • Mitch

    I used Kodak gallery to post travel logs while I was traveling in Europe. I put 100s of hours into it. Six years later, Kodak sent me an email telling me that I needed to buy $20 worth of stuff a year or they would delete my photos…

    WHile friends and family probably spent $100s of dollars over the past five years, they’re not “new” anymore and no one is buying anything anymore. I was furious, but have so much invested, I pony up the $20 a year (which I view as “ransom”) to keep my albums alive.

    Would have been different if I had agreed to this, but it was originally submitted as a “free” service and then Kodak changed the rules half way through the game.

    Shame on me, partially, but I will NEVER trust my data on a third party server again. I will AWAYS maintain control of my data.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    Jonathan Zittrain follows up in a guest blog post, here:


  • Hashi Akarui

    What is this speech impediment so many white American women suffer from? The trailing off sentences choked into a quacking befuddlement of static. Are american men deaf? How is it possible for these women to marry! Is Swisshker married to a post?

  • meme

    Check out the business model folks. Desktop systems, their components & the applications they run can be purchased & owned outright. You agree not to pirate the code but what you produce with it remains in your custody. Cloud computing is a service that along with bandwidth commands a fee in perpetuity. That is the whole entire point. The kodac example above is a good one. Now imagine that bit of intellectual property to which you no longer have access is your livelihood!

    The Amazon Kindle incident is not like the Napster case because the Napster files were pirated, while Amazon in fact sold the right to possess a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.”

    This example is also a good one when it comes to the cloud compluting debate, since according to the NYT report “a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading ’1984′ on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. ‘They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,’ he said.”


Aug 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Florrissant, Mo. (AP)

The National Guard and Eric Holder in Ferguson. ISIS beheads an American journalist. Texas Governor Rick Perry gets a mug shot. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Aug 22, 2014
In this image from video posted on Facebook, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, former President George W. Bush participates in the ice bucket challenge with the help of his wife, Laura Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP)

The Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS, viral fundraising and how we give in the age of social media.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: August 22, 2014
Friday, Aug 22, 2014

On mixed media messaging, Spotify serendipity and a view of Earth from the International Space Station.

More »
Your (Weird? Wonderful? Wacky?) Roommate Stories
Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014

We asked, and you delivered: some of the best roommate stories from across our many listener input channels.

More »
Our Week In The Web: August 15, 2014
Friday, Aug 15, 2014

On Pinterest, Thomas the Tank Engine and surprising population trends from around the country. Also, words on why we respond to your words, tweets and Facebook posts.

More »