I recently read a good article from Bruce Schneier which had as its central thesis the idea that Google, Microsoft etc are our new feudal lords. In a security context, we give up a certain amount of control, and in exchange we trust that our lords will both treat us well and protect us from harm.
I thought of this again yesterday when I read that Google was shutting down Google Reader. Now Google has a bit of a history of this – they start things up, give them a run and then shut them down or sell them off if they are no longer fitting with the current direction. The problem for Google with is one of trust. I’m happy enough to trust Google with my data, I’m even happy to let Google riffle through it and use it to serve me up appropriate advertising. That’s a fair trade-off in my book. But I have to be able to trust Google. I have to trust they wont misuse their access to my data. I have to trust they wont abuse the right to serve me advertising. And I have to trust that I’m not going to have to move to other services when they lose interest in the one I’m using.
Now all this applies to anyone in the cloud services area. But for me and many others I know it is more pointed because Google has been the one we trust more.
It’s not the end of the world as we know it if Google shuts down Reader. But it does mean that I will have to find an alternative. In turn that does two things. The first is that I have another service I’m using someone other than Google for – and the more fragmented my services are the less tied I am to Google. The second is that I will think twice next time I use Google for a cloud service; I may well still end up using them, But I’ll think twice.
Of course the feudal analogy breaks down when we realise that we can, in fact, withdraw our contribution to the relationship. We could, for example, set up our own email server. In fact, I have my own; but I still use Google because it is convenient for many things. But I’ll only continue using them if they do a good job and are effective and don’t abuse my trust. I must have a rational reason for using them; as a certain annoying peasant once said “Strange women lying in ponds is no basis for a system of government.” And given the deep levels of unhappiness the news of Reader’s demise is causing, Google needs to remember that there’s always the old anarcho-syndicalist commune…