Ubiquitous Computing in the Cloud: User Empowerment vs. User Obsequity

Ubiquitous Computing in the Cloud: User Empowerment vs. User Obsequity

Primavera De Filippi (Université Paris II, France)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4566-0.ch003
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This chapter analyses the evolution of the Internet, shifting from a decentralized architecture designed around the end-to-end principle with powerful mainframe/personal computers at each end, to a more centralized network designed according to the mainframe model, with increasingly weaker user’s devices that no longer have the ability to run a server nor to process any consistent amount of data or information. The advantages of ubiquitous computing (allowing data to become available from anywhere and at any time regardless of the device) should thus be counterbalanced with the costs it entails (loss of users’ autonomy, concerns as regards privacy, and freedom of expression, etc.).
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1. Introduction

The advent of Internet and digital technology drastically changed the way people act and interact in everyday’s life, in both personal and professional settings. Indeed, with the Internet, work, family and social life are becoming increasingly intertwined, sometimes even blurring into each other. The office does not longer consist exclusively of a place for work, but is increasingly used by people dealing with personal matters, via e-mails, instant messaging or social media. Conversely, professional activities extend throughout the day - either at home or at the office during lunch break, while traveling, or in the evening after a long day of work, people do not hesitate to check their e-mails and, if necessary, to complete their work. This naturally implies that people must be able to access their personal or professional files from anywhere and at any time, without direct access to their computer. Thus, in most developed countries, the Internet has become a necessity.

Ubiquitous computing is an attempt to answer emerging users’ need for ubiquity. Without trying to resolve any specific business or technical problem, it represents an effort to elaborate new opportunities based on pervasive computing and connectivity (Bell & Dourish, 2007).

Nowadays, computing has become an integral part of everyday life – yet, it is much less visible than before. Technological advances in the computing industry are such that electronic devices can be embedded in the environment in a way that is almost transparent to end-users (Weiser, 1991). Recent developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) encouraged the deployment of compact users devices that communicate with powerful servers and distributed data-centers in order to mediate and support many daily activities (Lyytinen & Yoo, 2002). Personal computers, laptops, tablets or even mobile phones are turned into “intelligent devices” able to provide innovative services and applications to satisfy emerging users’ needs in ways that could hardly be foreseen even just a few years earlier. Indeed, thanks to the Internet, any device - with limited computing resources - can potentially provide access to a world of information that was previously only available to a limited number of people connected to a given network.

This chapter analyzes the social, technical and legal implications of ubiquitous computing in the framework of cloud computing - distributed network architectures designed to provide computing resources as a service. After providing analysing the pro and cons of these new technologies, the chapter will address the implications that cloud computing might have on the interests of Internet users, whose autonomy is being increasingly impaired by the regulatory policy of large cloud operators.

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