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State of the Cloud, December 2019

Fergus O'Sullivan
By Fergus O'Sullivan (Writer, Former Chief Editor)
— Last Updated: 2021-01-19T16:03:15+00:00

Hello and welcome to this State of the Cloud, Cloudwards’ monthly column where we look at the news of the month before, yet name it after the one we’re in. November was a strange month news-wise, as for the first time since we started this series in April 2018, we won’t be mentioning Facebook at all, except in a brief aside in our “smaller stories” section at the end.

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This should spark some surprise among our more regular readers, and it certainly made us doubt ourselves when we first realized it, but we figure this means The Zuck is finally cleaning up his act. Nah, only joking, we’re sure he’ll be back to his usual tricks in 2020. Until then, though, we have plenty of other things going on, so let’s get started.

Cloud Gaming Ascent

Cloud gaming is in ascension, and it seems that every name worth mentioning is either investigating possibilities or actively developing a new platform that will take games into the cloud. However, the results aren’t always that great. For instance, when Google Stadia launched in November, it disappointed many users, including us when we reviewed it.

Much more interesting is Project xCloud, which will be Microsoft’s entry into the field. We were able to get access to the xCloud preview, an honor bestowed on just a few, and we were overall much more impressed. However, it’s still in development for now, so if you really can’t wait to get started with cloud gaming, the best alternative seems to be Shadow, which works just great.

Curbing the Internet


That, however, is it for the sunny and bright news of November. Despite Facebook not making many waves (seriously, the first time in almost two years), there was plenty of terrifying news to go around otherwise. 

Privacy seems to be a joke to most of those in power, which in the 21st century means both governments as well as corporations, and there were plenty of examples to pick from last month.

For instance, the Russian government is pushing for all phones sold in the Motherland to have certain regime-approved apps pre-installed, which won’t be removable. 

In the West, we may bitch about bloatware, but at least the stuff on our phones won’t lead to us eventually being imprisoned for having an opinion. No news yet on when this new law will go into effect, but we’ll probably be able to tell from the waves of arrests that’ll follow its passing.

From this kind of nastiness, we go right to straight-up media blackouts. Iran saw protests and riots after a massive rise in fuel prices, though the hike was probably more a flashpoint for decades of built-up frustration in the Middle Eastern nation. 

In an attempt to keep protestors from talking to each other — or at least from getting international attention for the police brutality which caused hundreds of deaths, like their Hong Kong counterparts did — the internet in Iran was simply shut down.

While we knew that Iran had this capability — we even talked about it briefly in our best VPN for Iran piece — it‘s still a drastic measure to take, especially because it’s not just unruly young people using the web, but also businesses and the government itself. There’s no saying the amount of damage the regime did to its economy with this shutdown.

Beijing Baloney

China VPN ban

Another country using tech to get the better of people who are not obeying its laws is, of course, China. Likely thanks to what’s going on in Hong Kong, the spotlight is firmly on the Middle Kingdom, and during the last month especially, we’re receiving more reports on what’s going on in the far western province of Xinjiang, where the minority Uighur population is being, well, let’s stick to assimilated, shall we?

The full list of horrors this Muslim minority is being subjected to stretches too long to recap here, but what’s striking is the role technology is playing. Beijing has harnessed the full power of tracking-tech to keep an eye on Uighurs pretty much all the time, changing these ordinary people’s lives into a production of 1984 and making them lab rats in a real life panopticon.

It’s distressing to see anybody live like that, but we worry that unscrupulous politicians and policemen in our neck of the woods will see China’s practices as an example to emulate, rather than one to shy away from. Only time, of course, will tell, but when does the rest of the world feel the full force of Big Brother’s gaze?

Nightingale’s Sweet Song


We might find out sooner than we think, too, though it’s not governments that are leading the charge in the U.S. and Europe, but corporations. Not merely content with having billions in revenue — most of it shipped off to dodgy offshore havens so it can’t be taxed — these corporations have been finding new ways to improve their revenue by trampling over our rights.

The biggest story to come out by far is Project Nightingale, which seems to be the signifier of a trend in which really scary ideas are given bird-themed codenames (for further evidence we submit Project Raven).

Nightingale is a cooperation between Google — which dropped its “don’t be evil” slogan a loooooong time ago — and Ascension, a U.S. healthcare provider that runs 2,600 clinics and hospitals throughout the country. In short, the deal involves Ascension handing Google tens of millions of patients’ files, and Google then finding new ways to process that data.

It doesn’t sound too bad at first, we’ll admit, but then you read the Nightingale article we linked and start thinking about all the crazy stuff Google has been up to with people’s data lately and, well, those shudders start crawling up your back. 

For one, patients agreed that Ascension would process their data, not Google. There was most likely some clause in the privacy policy that nobody read before clicking “agree,” which let third parties get access to the data, too. However, even if these patients had seen the clause, we bet nobody figured that the third party would be the biggest data slurper in the world.

Secondly, this data includes very sensitive information about people. Some of it is probably just embarrassing (grandad caught the clap), but some of it could change the way employers and insurers think about you. In a nightmare scenario, a cancer survivor could start getting ads for alternative treatments and such.

No wonder, then, that regulators are taking a keen interest in this deal, and the wording of the news suggests that a very dim view will be taken of these data-sharing practices, especially if they are in breach of HIPAA. We hope it works out in the favor of Ascension’s patients.

Smaller Stories

Facebook Privacy Unlike

Facebook’s iPhone app turns itself on and records you, even without input from you. Apparently this “bug” was quickly fixed, but it makes you wonder what The Zuck and his cronies were doing with all that data before somebody discovered something was up. 

An Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York has, according to its own figures, a worse injury rate than sawmills and steel foundries. That’s bad enough in and of itself, but what makes it more troubling is that we don’t know whether other Amazon facilities have better or worse rates. 

In a bid to make climate change a bit more urgent to citizens — because hurricanes and hot summers aren’t enough of a convincer — one institute is using VR to show what’ll happen to coastal communities if things don’t change soon. Nifty meets scary. 

Apple’s credit card was touted as a way to change the world, but apparently all it does is set it back, or at least in terms of women’s rights. Turns out women were given less credit than men when applying for the card, a situation the company promised it would remedy once the outrage over these antiquated practices went viral.

Last but not least, Interpol came out in November and announced that, with regard to end-to-end encryption on messaging apps and emails, all it does is protect pedophiles. Hot on the heels of this proclamation — a surprise to human rights activists and journalists everywhere — came the recommendation, of course, that back doors should be built into all these types of apps. Let’s hope they fail as hard as they did during the last push.

Final Thoughts

November was a bleak month, both weather-wise and news-wise, and so far December isn’t looking that much better. Hopefully next year the tide can be turned on all these attacks on privacy, but until then, we’ll keep an eye out on behalf of our readers.

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What do you think of all this? Is Big Brother becoming too powerful, or is it not all that bad, after all? Also, do you feel we missed any big stories from this past November? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.

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