swiss hosting offers true control over Swiss data

Bild Christian Walter

GDPR, Privacy Shield and Cloud Act: not an easy landscape to navigate. The new swiss hosting label provides clarity and guarantees that data does not leave Switzerland. This allows companies whose business depends on the secure handling of sensitive data to offer customers their services with maximum integrity.

In late 2019, Adobe announced that all Creative Cloud users in Venezuela would soon be locked out of their accounts, with no right to a refund of any fees already paid. This was triggered by a directive from the United States government, which imposed sanctions on Venezuela at that time, still applicable today. Thanks to a creative reinterpretation of the directive, this decision was reversed two days later.

The Creative Cloud incident was not the first time the US government imposed sanctions that affect the delivery of technical services. In 2009, for example, Microsoft blocked its messenger service throughout Cuba, Syria, Iran, Sudan and North Korea. And just recently it became known that aspects of language-learning app Duolingo must not be made available in Syria, which is also subject to sanctions.

The fact that major powers – along with certain wannabes – are now extending their national interests to cover measures that violate the principle technological neutrality must give us cause for concern, now more than ever. This is essentially due to the coincidence of three key trends:

  1. Deglobalization/nationalism
  2. The ubiquity of cloud services
  3. The concentration of suppliers

We have seen clear tendencies towards deglobalization ever since the 2008 financial crisis. Examples include the trade war between the US and China, or frictions between the US and the EU over the profits of US tech giants. No sooner had the EU threatened taxation than the Americans announced import duties on European products. Just a few years ago, this would have been unthinkable. This already fragile situation is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted our collective dependence on international supply chains. At the same time, the pandemic is accelerating the pace of the second trend: the ongoing move of business-critical applications into the cloud.

They’ve got their FAANGs into us
What is being sold to us here under the guise of innovation and increased efficiency could come to cost us dearly in the future. Massive new dependencies are emerging, as the online space is dominated in many areas by an American oligopoly known as FAANG: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. The only comparable services are Chinese providers like Alibaba or Tencent. Europe is not currently in a position to resist this dominance.

This is problematic on several levels: As we have known since the Snowden revelations, American secret services are free to extract data more or less at will. Efforts to regulate this culminated in the 2016 Privacy Shield Agreement between the United States and the EU. This agreement was intended to regulate the handling of exported data and, above all, to safeguard the digital privacy of EU citizens on American soil. The United States, however, built in clauses to undermine this principle right from the start. Ultimately, the European Court of Justice overturned the agreement in July 2020. It currently remains unclear if and in what form the agreement will be replaced. But that was not all: the US government also underscored its own position with the Cloud Act, signed by President Donald Trump in 2019. This extends the United States’ unilateral entitlement to access data to all data held by American companies in foreign territories.

Leeching data for profit
It is at least doubtful that a request would be required before data can be released. Documents from the Snowden archive reveal that the American secret services usually do not even ask first. But the problem does not stop there. Amazon, for example, hosts the CIA cloud. This certainly blurs the lines between state and corporate activities. We should at least be asking who is gaining competitive advantages from whom, and how. The same should also apply to the other FAANGs.

Yet we are still a long way from the end of the line. The big cloud providers sell both infrastructure and services. These are sometimes inspired by successful third-party providers, that are then copied and cloned. This is becoming increasingly easy, since all data on usage and performance can be accessed directly via their own platform and can used to inspire their own development. Moreover, even if a prospective customer explicitly searches for a third-party service, the platform-owner can modify the search results to list their own solution first in bold – ideally with a significant discount. The Elastic Search case shows how this plays out.

Unfortunately, there’s more. The FAANGs dominate the American stock market with a collective 20 percent share. They owe this volume to their large profit margins – usually in double figures. However, these margins can only party be attributed to the genuine and exceptional nature of these companies’ innovative achievements. After all, this development is fueled by the data they have access to, extracted free of charge from all possible sources.

Whether the Chinese have a different attitude is at least doubtful: after all, it’s all about business, and why shouldn’t these companies try to make money? But at the end of the day, it’s about more than just business, as illustrated by the cases already described. What if Swiss companies are only allowed to do business in ways that meet the United States’ approval? What if various cloud services were to be simply switched off? What if, on a very personal level, I don’t want to keep constantly sending all my data abroad for free?

That’s when things get difficult. Not least because the advance of digitalization is leading to increasing dependencies. The United States and China are the most dominant countries, and it might appear that this is a done deal. And let’s face it – it’s hard to avoid the market leaders in certain areas.

Fortunately, this does not stretch across the board and there are alternatives: local, Swiss alternatives.

It has been swiss made software’s mission for the past decade to demonstrate this on the software side. These are solutions where the customer does not have to go in blind and hope for the best. swiss hosting is the natural evolution of this, as we embrace the details of cloud infrastructure. The new swiss hosting label helps to separate the wheat from the chaff in cloud and hosting services. It’s an easy-to-understand quality seal, promising businesses and individuals alike that their data won't leave the country, neither directly nor via a third party. At the same time, swiss hosting also represents a certain degree of control and independence. And that allows us to start imagining another world.
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Weitere Informationen: swissmadesoftware.org

Christian Walter - swiss made software