Key dialectics in cloud services

Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 45 (3):52-59 (2015)
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This paper will identify three central dialectics within cloud services. These constitute defining positions regarding the nature of cloud services in terms of privacy, ethical responsibility, technical architecture and economics. These constitute the main frameworks within which ethical discussions of cloud services occur. The first dialectic concerns the question of whether it is it essential that personal privacy be reduced in order to deliver personalised cloud services. I shall evaluate the main arguments in favour of the view that it is. To contrast this, I shall review Langheinrich’s Principles of Privacy-Aware Ubiquitous Systems [24]. This offers a design strategy which maintains functionality while embedding privacy protection into the architecture and operation of cloud services. The second dialectic is concerned with the degree to which people who design or operate cloud services are ethically responsible for the consequences of the actions of those systems, sometimes known as the “responsibility gap.” I shall briefly review two papers which argue that no one is ethically responsible for such software, then contrast them with two papers which make strong arguments for responsibility. I shall show how claims for no responsibility rest on very narrow definitions of responsibility combined with questionable conceptions of technology itself. The current shape of cloud services is dominated by a tension between open and closed systems. I shall show how this is reflected in architecture, standards and organisational models. I will then examine alternatives to the current state of affairs, including recent developments in support of alternative business models at government level, such as the House of Lords call for the Internet to be treated as a public utility (The Select Committee on Digital Skills, 2015).
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