State-of-the-Cloud

Hello, and welcome to a new State of the Cloud, Cloudwards.net’s monthly column where we shine a harsh light over all that’s been happening in the world of tech. Prepare to be dazzled by our informed opinions, all of them informed by extensive reading of the news, insofar as that’s possible in the Age of Filler, or just yawn in anticipation. It’s all good.

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This month, we’ll be taking potshots at our usual target Facebook, as well as looking at Alexa, which is proof that Amazon is just as bad as Facebook or Google when it comes to not caring about people’s right to privacy. The Huawei situation will also make an appearance and there’ll be other, smaller news, too, but first, let’s take a look at what’s been happening with VPNs.

Russian to Conclusions

Russian VPN ban

At the end of March, the Russian overseer of all things communication, Roskomnadzor, sent emails to several of the best VPNs and ordered them to block access to many websites for Russian users. Keen to protect its people from free thought, Moscow has caught on that many people are dodging its blocks by using a VPN, so now it’s trying to cut them off at the pass.

As you can read in our piece on the attempted Russian VPN block, the VPN providers we approached told Roskomnadzor to get lost, but some went further than others. Besides strident statements by ExpressVPN, several providers, such as NordVPN, shut down their Russian servers.

Let’s hope Roskomnadzor accepts its defeat with good grace. We’ll keep you posted. That said, on the subject of NordVPN, we received unsettling news a week or two ago. The Register reports that several of its readers reported odd traffic when connected using the app.

That, as well as earlier rumors NordVPN may be operating a botnet, has us curious about what’s going on with the second-rated service among our VPN reviews. Watch this space, we’ll be going a-diggin’.

We Had Hoped Never to See Their Facebook Again

We’ll admit we’re sick of beating this drum — we started in April 2018 — but Facebook is a gift that keeps on giving. It gives in a bad way, though, like herpes. Several little scandals broke over the month, and they all showed a reckless disregard for the privacy of users.

For example, the company uploaded 1.5 million people’s email addresses, which dovetails nicely with the new company policy in which new users need to give Facebook their email passwords. Basically, not only is Facebook giving out your email address, it also has the password for it.

If you’re thinking such information is kept safely, think again. It was revealed the company stores them unencrypted, but the Facebook PR department, which is a job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, quickly released a statement saying it wasn’t that bad. Spoiler alert: it’s that bad, especially if you factor in that it kept many user records on unsecured Amazon servers.

No wonder Facebook’s latest earnings report kept $3 billion in reserve for the record fine the Federal Trade Commission is set to hand down on The Zuck’s little dragon. Shareholders needn’t worry too much, though, as old Mark is mulling launching an Alexa-type personal assistant, which belongs in the “what could go wrong?” category of business decisions.

The Trouble with Alexa

Speaking of, Amazon’s Alexa is shaping up to be a disaster. The fancy square box with a microphone that’s always on is at the forefront of the privacy discussion, though we’d like to point out that sales are still up, which is amazing, in a way.

It turns out that many of the protections built in to the system to guarantee your privacy are bogus. For one, Alexa operators — the guys who listen in, basically — aren’t using anonymized data, but actually know everything about you, including your home address. That’s not something you want in a device that’s also authorized to access and store patient data.

5G Security? Huawei Kiddin’?

As we mentioned in February, and as has been on the news every other day the last month or two, there’s serious discussion going on about whether Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei should be allowed to participate in building 5G networks in Europe, Canada and the U.S., with Washington being hell-bent against it.

Here at Cloudwards.net, we’re going to do something uncharacteristic and side with the Trump administration. With all that we know about China, letting a company that may be state-funded participate in building vital infrastructure is an idea that’s just plain bad. A regime as unfriendly to human rights as Beijing’s should be prevented at all costs from listening to our conversations.

That said, Germany feels differently and will allow Huawei to help build 5G networks, provided the company follows the rules. The UK will follow a similar strategy, banning it from certain “core” components but leaving everything else open.

The problem with those strategies is that technology moves fast. What once was harmless may later become important. One example is the Y2K bug. We have no idea how Huawei’s hardware will impact use of the network 10 years down the road, when the geopolitical and technological stages have changed.

By letting Huawei in, governments have no idea what price they’ll be paying for cheap hardware down the line. We don’t blame the U.S. intelligence community for rethinking their data-sharing strategy with its allies if they choose to work with Huawei.

Smaller Stories

Google is set to make one of its most useful apps, Maps, far less useful by more aggressively pushing sponsored locations. Give it a few years and we’ll have to use paper maps again with all the ads blasting into our eyeballs.

It turns out that, as with any profession, there are online courses on how to become a rich and successful internet fraudster. In an inevitable yet hilarious twist, most of those guides are fraudulent, meaning guys aspiring to cheat folks out of their hard-earned cash are getting bilked before they even start. Poetic justice?

To close off this month, we have news that Amazon Web Services’s biggest client is … Apple? It turns out that Cupertino doesn’t have the cloud space it needs to store a lot of its data, so it makes use of the competition’s. We live in a weird world.

Final Thoughts

With that, we’ll stop our musings and get back to writing reviews. April felt like month in which a lot of bigger stories were brewing, and we’re already looking forward to what May will bring. Though a conclusion to the Facebook fiasco would be nice, we’re betting that Huawei will continue to dominate headlines, as well as the usual sundry security breaches.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for updates on reviews, articles and investigations.

What do you think of the news the past month? Did we miss any important stories? Let us know in the comments below and, as usual, thank you for reading. Stay safe out there.

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