The rationale of using 'free' cloud-based services (e.g. Google) for your professional work?

This issue has been bothering me for some time, and I think we need a Humane Tech discussion on the topic, and maybe (in future) a separate project to address it.

Most discussions related to privacy on this forum are focused on the individual. The cases where the consumer is the product. But what about companies, institutions, schools, universities?

If you use ‘free’ cloud-based services at work, aren’t you just as well the product too?

Google is the best example here, but there are others. It is crazy, if you come to think of it, that we use so many of their ‘free’ products and services, while they are an ad-tech company at heart, that is looking to aggregate as much information as possible to monetize it for their own benefit. In the case of Google they are also feeding all this information to their AI systems for unknown analysis and purposes.

So some questions (I use the term Tech Giant, and you can replace with Google/Amazon/Apple, etc.):

  • Would you allow a competitor the same level of access to information that you provide Tech Giant?

  • Would you still provide Tech Giant this information if they start to be a competitor in you field?

  • Would the Tech Giant be capable of using your information indirectly to compete against you?

  • Would the Tech Giant be capable to provide 3rd-parties (indirect) insight into your internal work processes?

  • Can I trust a business partner that processes/stores all my information in the cloud of a Tech Giant?

  • Is it ethical that by requiring your employees to use these services you expose them to personal data-harvesting as well?

  • Do you even know the answer to any of the above questions?

What does Tech Giant know about your professional work?

Well, I personally know a bunch of examples where the Tech Giant knows just about everything! How about you?

If, say, your company uses Gmail, Chrome, Google Docs, Forms, etc. then Googles knows about everything, from the earliest initiative, the first sprout of an idea, the internal processes that make it grow, the conflicts that exist in your organisation, what people earn, what the revenue is, the reaction of customers, etc.

Or for a research institution, they get early access to the full research though process, the direction you follow and the side-paths you leave for later. They don’t need to sponsor research… they can just peek over your shoulder!

I applied with my strartup idea at a tech incubator, and the registration required me to fill in a 19-page Google Forms with details about the idea. What if my idea, or someone else’s would be worth billions?

Then Amazon. They operate in many, many branches of business. Until now, in just about every branch they shattered the competition, became the dominant player. They intend to continue conquering new branches. They have no firewalls between services. What I use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to run my own webshop from the cloud? They can see all my traffic, have the most detailed insight in the products that sell.

So summarizing:

Isn’t this just crazy, what are we thinking?

Should we expose ourselves like this, or are there protections, and isn’t the problem as big it might seem?

The problem is, of course, the same one that applies to individuals, that these products and services are seemingly ‘free’, and in most cases they save an enormous amount of money and time (no self-hosting, servers, sysadmins, maintenance, one-click away from entreprise-wide use, etc.), and enormously attractive if your budgets are cut, etc.