On Freedom and Sovereignty

24 Feb 2010

When I started in SEO business almost have a year ago, I have been shunt into Matt Cutts, head of Google's webspam team. Reading his blog articles, i did not only get insights into Google, but also in his person. I got to know, that he starts challenges which would endure 30 days, usually. For one of those, he decided to switch from Windows to Ubuntu, and he eventually he kept using it. The latest challenge was to replace his iPhone with Android based Nexus One, and he does not seem to roll back, too.

In our time, when everything is, goes and is going to be more and more web based, my impression is that many users do not think about where they put their data, how secure the provider is and which control they have. Especially with the rise of software-as-a-service models you need to be sure to know what happens with your data, somewhere in the cloudy somewhat. Who is you email provider and who can read your mails? Are there Backdoors? Should i upload my pictures to flickr? Where can i safely send private and possibly sensitive messages?

The web offers a lot of services. Many are free, but proprietary. Loads are open source - but can you trust the provider? If not, you can set up your own service. But can you reach people? It works, for example, with Jabber/XMPP, which is designed to do so, but you will need to built up your own network with status.net on the other side.

As is often the case, you need to balance which services or implementations are the best solutions. Or which data is highly sensitive and which you can spread. Matt Cutts has one rule of thumb:

"don’t put data somewhere that I can’t get it back"

If you follow this rule, you have total sovereignty over your data. However, this is a challenge: you are absolutely sure, if you host everything yourself. But is everyone capable of setting up and running a mail server? Hardly. Perhaps, we simply need to trust in some companies and organisations, as long as they merit it.

First conclusion: be the souvereign of your sensitive data, be in control of them.

Matt Cutts decided to favor his Android phone. Being employed by Google, the first assumption is that he is advertising Android based gadgets, but that is okay, since his argumentation is valid. Apple's iPhone is limited to applications provided by Apple or those placed in the AppStore (right?), and highly dependent on the vendor's will. Whereas Android gives you a lot more freedom, e.g. writing and distributing your own applications or interacting with non-apple services. I'd prefer Maemo, though, and subsequently its successor MeeGo (after merging with Intel's Moblin), because you have access to the Debian repositories (at least with Nokia N900 from what i heard) and because it is developed more openly than Android. I get an uncomfortable feeling when reading, that Google does not seem to be interested in participating with the Linux kernel development, regarding the parts relevant to Android.

Second conclusion: decide on how dependent you want to be.

This was one key factor why Matt Cutts still uses Ubuntu.

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