So, I work with computers and online hosting systems; this will be relevant …
There is no cloud.
There are just computers that other people control.
This matters when manufacturers decide to start making and selling products that refuse to function unless you connect online to their system. Home solar power systems, televisions, refrigerators, speakers, probably toilets at this point; a lot of stuff out there has online features and is rendered partially or completely non-functional without a working Internet connection.
Or, say, when a manufacturer goes out of business. Or discontinues a product. Or just doesn’t feel like paying to maintain that online system anymore.
That device you’ve been using for years, that you paid for, is a brick. (That’s the technical term, yes.)
This steals your money, wastes your time, and sends huge amounts of electronics into the waste or recycling (if we’re lucky) streams every year.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in A Better World it wouldn’t be.
There’s no reason outdated gear shouldn’t still be able to work.
And with one small requirement, it could:
Before you can sell a device that depends on an online service to operate, you should have to escrow a copy of your sources and a functioning system. And keep that escrow updated when you change the live copy.
Escrow is a system where a trusted third-party holds onto something for you for a while, with pre-set rules for how and when they can release it. You may be familiar with it from what happens to your down payment when you’re buying a house and waiting for all the approvals to go through.
It can work for computer code and other systems too.
We absolutely could require, before a device is made available for sale, that its source code and the code for any systems on which it depends (ideally in the form of a functioning installation) be placed in escrow with a specialized (and certified) escrow company, and that the escrowed system be updated with any later changes as well.
All the data collected and used by the running systems should have to be funneled into the escrow as well, either in realtime or by periodic updates.
Then, when company-not-to-be-named-here decides that they don’t want to support the product anymore the escrow is lifted and any owners of that product would be free to use the escrowed materials to keep the system that (remember) they bought and paid for running for as long as they like.
Well, that may be going too far. But at least we’d waste less time and money replacing equipment that should still be working and we’d extend the lifespan of our electronics.
And it’d stop companies from selling us stuff that’ll break whenever they get bored of it.
Thanks to whoever runs the Internet of Shit Twitter account for inspiring this idea.
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