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State of the Cloud, December 2018

Fergus O'Sullivan
By Fergus O'Sullivan (Writer, Former Chief Editor)
— Last Updated: 2018-12-06T13:51:39+00:00

Another month, another state of the cloud. We know loyal readers have been slavering in anticipation of a new issue of our soapbox rants, and we are, as always, more than happy to oblige.

This month’s edition is all about the aftermath of the U.S. midterm elections, as well as governments’ continuing battle against Silicon Valley. Besides that, we have a few bits of creeping dystopia and sundry digital news.

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Also, we hope to more often include product updates in these articles. The biggest one this month, is that pCloud has drastically reduced its terms for free storage. Where the service before offered 10GB of free storage space out of the gate, you now only get 2GB and need to “earn” the other 8GB by recommending it to friends and the like.

It doesn’t impact the position of the pCloud review among our other cloud storage picks, but it is a shame the company downsized the free offering, though still understandable. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the news, and especially America’s recent elections.

Midterm Madness, Continued

Trump claims victory

Though The Donald may have claimed victory, the Democrats are pretty pleased with themselves too, having retaken control of the lower house in the U.S. Congress these last elections. However, as we predicted in our November edition, the online fight was pretty heavy, with plenty of examples of trickery and misinformation marring the democratic process.

One example is Twitter killing 10 thousand accounts that discouraged people from voting. This is a particularly nasty tactic because it often seems targeted at groups that have fought a long, hard battle to get voting rights in the first place. On top of that, many ads got yanked off of Facebook and Google in the days leading up to the elections.

However, the consensus seems to be that social giants did an okay job of preventing anything truly awful from happening, though there still on the hook for what little meddling did take place, as well as earlier episodes. The attention, however, seems to be shifting to Europe, which has a huge Europe-wide election coming up. Already Steve Bannon, Trump’s fired victory architect, and his alt-right cohort are wading in, a wonderful prospect if you like style over substance.

To prevent the kind of chaos we saw in the States in 2016, the EU has pressured Google to put a new policy in place that should have the search engine working to prevent fake ads and the like from taking over the internet, while we can assume Twitter and Facebook are being made to do much the same. What the results will be, we can only guess at this early juncture.

Governments Get Involved

Emmanuel Macron

Speaking of pressure, November 2018 could be named “the month that governments got involved.” Barely a day passed without some news concerning authorities somewhere on the globe pointing out the failings of the internet or the companies that run it and announcing measures — some benign, some not — to curb the worst of it.

To start with the worst, China has called for a “fairer” internet. Those quotation marks aren’t just ours, pretty much every single news organization in the world used them as fairer by Chinese standards basically means even more censorship. We’ve talked about the Great Firewall before, but since writing that article the totalitarian state has implemented even more controls, as well as a terrifying social credits system.

In reply to the Chinese idea of a fair internet, France’s Emmanuel Macron came up with a plan to regulate the web better and ensure more equality that way. After all, China’s core contention that the internet isn’t a level playing field isn’t wrong, it’s just the communist solutions will be likely worse than anything in existence now. Macron’s plan is a bit complicated, but has the backing of Microsoft as well as plenty of other world leaders.

On the other side of the Channel, however, Britain, besides struggling with a Brexit that’s looking more disastrous by the day, will be extending age-check laws, initially aimed at porn sites, to cover a host of other digital activities. Though it may not sound like the worst idea at first, whatever mechanism will end up being used to check all this would be a massive invasion of privacy. Maybe France’s option isn’t so bad after all.

Smaller Stories

Fcaebook documents

Facebook is facing a court case in the U.S. where several rights groups are demanding the company hand over documents which could detail how the company spied on voice conversations between WhatsApp users on behalf of the U.S. government. This would be an entirely new chapter in the battle for privacy and make for a landmark case. Watch this space.

In news that recalls the darker corners of dystopian science fiction, a few corporations around the world are now chipping employees under the guidance of two Swedish firms. This raises the scenario that you’d not only have to slave away to work off your debts, but you’d have to be chipped for the honor of doing so. It’s also proof the Swedes aren’t a squeaky clean as they’d have you believe (for further proof, read our best VPN for Sweden piece).

In other Apple news, the company is no longer disclosing sales figures, probably because numbers have dropped with the massive price hikes; investors remained unperturbed. However, Apple is also coming back from its policy of not repairing devices older than five years, which means that consumers will get more life out of their smooth-cornered white boxes.

In final news, Russia, is cracking down some more on tech firms, in particular those who break some of the very specific rules Putin’s government has set out regarding where data is stored. Violators will face massive fines. Another nail in the coffin for the free internet, for more details check out our article on the best VPN for Russia which has an overview of the repression in place.

Final Thoughts

With those somber notes we end this state of the cloud. Though there is plenty to be optimistic about when it comes to technological progress, privacy and democracy are still very much under attack all around the world. Whether reforms like Macron’s will be a hinder or help remains to be seen, but it seems more and more that we’re stuck between governments and corporations vying for control.

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Do you have a more optimistic view? Or are things even bleaker? Let’s get a discussion started in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.

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