Internet ethics – why not Zoom?

Internet ethics – why not Zoom?

Although platforms such as Hangouts, Skype, Teams and Zoom have been helpful during the global spread of Covid-19, as long-term infrastructure they carry risks for both individuals and businesses. Most obviously, all activities taking place through these cloud-based platforms are available to the corporations that own the cloud space. Microsoft uses Skype conversations for product development, for example, and admits to lacking a security system for safeguarding such data. Zoom, meanwhile, has been accused of selling data to third parties such as Facebook, and seems to be particularly susceptible to hacking (resulting, for instance, in obscene images arriving in a stream for schoolgirls).

We at Music Boat are keen to minimise the risk that our teachers, students and collaborators could be exploited or disrupted by these global corporations. And yet we too are dependent on the cloud. What’s our solution? If you want the short answer, skip to the final paragraph. Meanwhile, here is the longer one.

Cloud technologies are provided in three broad categories.

  1. When you use applications such as Dropbox, Google Docs and Zoom on your home computer your activity is relying on Software as Service (Saas). This has the advantage of making everything easy for you. But all your data is managed by – and accessible to – these providers, who may use it for their own purposes; and when their servers are down, you may find yourself unable to access your work.
  2. An alternative is to avoid these commercial software packages and buy only the service of infrastructure (Infrastructure as Service, Iaas). This way you pay a tech giant such as Amazon for virtual space in the cloud, in which you install a free operating system (such as Ubuntu) and software. The cloud space you purchase is highly encrypted and is unlikely to be of interest to the host provider.
  3. In between these two routes is the Platform as Service (Paas), in which you pay for computer space in the cloud that is already equipped with an operating system and a range of applications, which you share with other users.

Music Boat is run on cloud space provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS), on a server located in Ireland that runs on energy of wind farms. On this server, we have installed our own instances of freeware such as Ubuntu, WordPress, BigBlueButton and Jitsi Meet in order to do everything we want to do in the safest way that is currently available. This is the second model described above, Infrastructure as Service (Iaas).