The Hybrid in the Cloud: A critical analysis of the practices of central actors within the European field of cloud computing

Marie Agerlin Olsen

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

Cloud computing1 is by private companies and public institutions alike coined as the technological wonder that will dramatically boost economic productivity, and all are seeking ways to maximise the potential of ‘the cloud’. One central change brought around by cloud computing is the significant growth of cross-border transfers data, which raises concerns relating to the regulation of data transfers to third countries, jurisdiction, responsibility, as well as the implications on the protection of the individual’s right to privacy. Common to, and underlying, all these issues, however, are interlinkages of public and private actors; whilst the majority of the European cloud computing infrastructure is owned and controlled by private companies, a whole range of public institutions, private companies, industry organisations, civil society organisations, etc. seem to be concerned with cloud computing, and public actors are seen to increasingly seek control of this space. Within this network, however, public and private actors appear increasingly intertwined. It is the relation between public and private in the cloud as well as its implications that are under investigation in this thesis. Situating the phenomenon of cloud computing in Europe within the theoretical framework of Bourdieu with field and habitus as central concepts allows for an analysis capturing the central actors, their practices, and the relations of power prevailing within the European field of cloud computing in order to eventually expose the hierarchies produced as a result. On the basis of this analysis, this thesis argues that within the European field of cloud computing resides a powerful yet obscure public/private hybrid, the actors, activities, purposes, and regulation of which are thoroughly entangled. The effects of the practices of this hybrid entail that security in and of the cloud is considered essential to the well functioning of the market, and that only those possessing the required, specialised technical skills get to speak on matters of cloud security. In this context the protection of individual privacy is continuously understated. Moreover, through the hybrid’s successful proclamation of the commitment to transparency, regarding the handling and use of data stored in the cloud, civil society organisations advocating civilian rights to privacy are left entirely without a voice. The absence of these organisations within the field is striking. The power of the public/private hybrid is further amplified by the construction of the cloud as critical infrastructure and thus as an object whose security is absolutely necessary for – in this case – the economic functioning of society. Through this construction, concerns for privacy and the materialities to protect privacy in the cloud are placed outside the boundary drawn through the construction of the cloud as critical infrastructure. Produced within this field is thus a hierarchy where the public/private hybrid, consisting of very specialised and technologically superior actors, prevails at the top, and where the individual as a bearer of rights to privacy ranks lowest. The public/private hybrid, through its enactment and misrecognition as divided into public and private, conceals this hierarchy making it appear normal or even invisible and thus constantly sustains the position of the individual and his or her rights to privacy and data protection.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2016
Number of pages74