iCloud or Your Cloud?

Sad-faced cloud with text, There is no cloud it's just someone else's computer
Make it your computer instead.

March 8, 2023: the day of the first ever "Cloud Strike." What do you know about the cloud anyway? And how do we extract ourselves from this largely ephemeral, invisible layer that's embedded, hidden in plain sight, in our everyday lives?

Based on over a decade of opting out of the major cloud services, I offer my own tried and true ideas below.

What is the cloud?

First, remind yourself it's not really a cloud. "The Cloud" is one of the most brilliant and deceptive pieces of false advertising in computing, up there with "Artificial Intelligence".  The cloud isn't a cloud, it's not ephemeral. It's physical and material. It has a history, it was never pre-determined. Cloud computing lines are laid down over our past resource-intensive, extractive industries.

Cloud computing also takes up tremendous resources. Data centers are large and power-hungry. Sure, many engineers at big companies are working on the problems of environmentally friendly power or investigating cooling options, like sinking banks of computers into the ocean. Meanwhile, current estimates keep "cloud" computing high on the list of environmental problems we are facing in the era of climate change.

Second, "the cloud" is owned. It's a place where your data goes, where you aren't in charge of it. When you store your information "in the cloud" you are giving it to a company. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are the chief offenders. Just think, when you access your files you are enriching Jeff Bezos--whose profitable business isn't actually selling books online or delivery logistics but providing vast server farms to become the new backbone of the internet. Or Satya Nadella, or Tim Cook, or any and all of Google's investors to boot.  

Bonus points if that company uses the data you put on their cloud to develop "artificial intelligence" bots that mimic our speech or art. And by bonus points I mean, negative points--for us all.

Let me add that the more data goes into these cloud servers, the more power and money these companies have. The convenience of not storing all our photos on our memory-limited, losable phone, for instance, is actually aggrandizing the FAANGs. Check out my piece on Micro-conveniences for more on this idea.

Third, the cloud actually requires upkeep. It doesn't just take care of itself. It needs people to keep the servers running and the lights on, people to keep it updated and secure, people to take care of the computers' unique janitorial needs. It's the plumbing of the internet. It needs labor. Physical, materiall, human labor.

It's material. It's owned. And it's laborious. The whole idea that it's "a cloud" obscures all of that, right? And maybe that's why we should still call it "a cloud"--because it obscures in its mist all the labor, materiality, and capital that keeps it running.

So how can I resist?

It is admittedly hard to avoid all websites hosted by these services. Many of these companies have now become the backbone, defacto Internet Service Providers (ISP's) of the contemporary web (move over, Compuserve).A recent New York Times piece by Kashmir Hill offered a first hand view of someone attempting to divest from The Cloud. For many people, this was the first time they thought about where their data actually lives.

But there are things you can do to start divesting. I recommend you read my posts on how to get started, especially the Google Break-Up. Because the key is to take aim at one pillar at a time. If you try to go off everything at once, you'll end up giving up.

Of course, in the case of a one-day strike, it's actually great idea to try giving everything up all at once--for just a short period of time. The goal is to observe its true footprint in your life from its absence, and know where you want to start your project of disentangling yourself from it.

My students find this really revealing when I ask them to delete their favorite social media app from their phone for 48 hours; they find themselves hovering over the ghost of the icon that's no longer there, more often than they anticipated.  And sure, it's inconvenient-- it's supposed to be! Either way, as the great Joni Mitchell sings, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone."

What can I use instead?

In my personal view the key is to divest from these sites. Divide and conquer. Don't put all your eggs in one company's basket. Try moving your data to these alternative services, closer to home. Scroll all the way down for the techie-est options for how to get off. For everyone else's benefit, I offer the following.

Social Networks

When you log into Facebook (ahem, Instagram is Facebook too; and WhatsApp) or Twitter, you sign onto a central cloud service administered by that company. Check out the Fediverse, which includes Mastodon (like Facebook) and Pixelfed (like Instagram). It's much like the social network sites you know and love (or love to hate), except they avoid being centralized on someone else's cloud. You sign up on someone's server, so you know exactly where your data is hosted. Or you can host it yourself, if you're savvy. Either way, this divests from the cloud, distributes the computing load, and makes it impossible for these companies to profit from your attention or your relationships.

Document storage:

Google Docs and Outlook 365 are gateways to corporate cloud infrastructure. Dropbox lets you choose where your data is stored, making it closer to home (or a local tax haven) if that is of interest to you.

Personally, I'm a fan of Resilio Sync. It stores your documents in bits and pieces all over the place, so they can only be reassembld by a computer with access to your personal passkey. Think, like, BitTorrent but for files--and legal. 

Another great idea for all is to set up a NextCloud account or get an account on offer cloud-like services including document storage, mail and calendars syncing. You will pay for the privilege, but then again you are the customer and not the product.

Document sharing and editing

See above for document storage (and sharing). My favorite collaborative online editing sites include Cryptpad, for a Google-doc-like interface and all the collaborative functionality; Etherpad, a lightweight collaborative notepad; and Overleaf, for LaTeX editing and writing.

Alternative Voice Assistants

Maybe we are falling out of love with voice assistants, maybe not. But if you want to avoid the Corporate Cloud, turn your Alexa, Siri, and Google Home off. They look like they're just in your house, but they're piping your voice to cloud servers in order to figure out what you're asking. It is possible to do voice recognition and assistance just onboard a device, however its capabilities are more limited. I've personally experimented with several offline voice assistants, including Mycroft and the Alice Project. Both have the basic tools, like setting timers or alarms, reading the news and asking about the weather. Kids will love asking Mycroft about their favorite Pokémon. They're a little awkward at playing music, but if you have technical skills you can intervene more easily. I'll write about these voice assistants elsewhere. 


When you watch stuff on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix or Hulu, you're streaming data from their cloud. I mean, you could just get DVD's or go to a video store--eep, I mean public library--to rent or watch something on a disk player at home. For those addicted to the streaming interface, try out Plex, which catalogs your own home collection of movies and presents it in a nifty familiar menu.  You can also share video libraries with friends and issue commands from your handheld device of choice. Or you can watch what's available on Plex's own system.

(There used to be a version that ran on a Raspberry Pi, and it was awesome, but it seems to have been abandoned. Don't use it until an update makes it safe to serve movies from your home.


You might consider the ideas on this list, largely open-source projects to host photos. I've also used MediaGoblin in the past. If you're not a tech whiz, though, these are difficult to set up and manage yourself. It could be best to download those photos and keep them at home, on an external drive. Ask yourself if you really do need to access pictures that are ten years old or more, and if not--move them off the Cloud and bring them home.

How about going full-DIY?

Yes, you can! But only this if you are moderately to highly technically skilled. Or even if you're just unafraid and curious. 

Anyone who knows how to use computers and move files around can take the time (and it does take time, because data transfer is a material thing) to download everything locally and save it to a hard drive. It's become less expensive to grab a large harddrive (1 to 4 terrabytes) to store all your stuff and put it on your bookshelf.  It won't be online or accessible online, but it's yours and you'll know where it is.

You can sign up for a server or system like or, which both let you keep your data on their servers. You will have to pay for this option, but that means you aren't the product.

You can set up a NAS (network attached storage) at home.  I have a NAS and it's great. They're also getting much easier to use. Think of it as your own personal, offline, 'cloud'. That's also going to be too much for some, but if you're into it, I present to you your own personal rabbit hole for the next few months. Enjoy!

The most techie option, of course, for you is to administer your own cloud services. NextCloud makes this straightforward: you can sign up for an account with them, or you can host your own version of it, on your own server. My brother has gone so far as to set up a kubernetes cluster in his pantry that serves all his music, movies, and documents, using a combination of NextCloud and Plex (yep, we're related alright). If that whole sentence made no sense to you, don't worry about it. Scroll up for the solutions that are right for you.

Dispelling the Mist

Congratulations--you are one step closer to evicting the corporate cloud from your life and adjusting your data footprint! Even if you just choose one item from the list above and make a change, you're contributing to a positive effect in the world.