why you shouldn’t put your trust in the cloud

January 7, 2012

Surely by now you’ve heard of the electronic cloud, the magical place where all your data lives, beaming down to whatever wireless device you happen to be holding at any given moment. No matter where you go, you can dial up your contacts, e-mail that presentation, or update your to do lists. Lost on the way somewhere or just forgot the number of the building? Need to call and say you’ll be late to a meeting but don’t remember who to call thanks to an inopportune brain fart? No worries, just tap into the cloud on your tablet or smart-phone and the data you need is there in just seconds.  It’s great, it’s incredibly useful, it’s the next logical abstraction of a wireless world taking advantage of web-based data access, and it’s quickly become the modern standard for managing the streams of information, both useful and useless, being generated every day. And you shouldn’t trust it. Not in the slightest. Why? Because your data in the cloud doesn’t belong to you and should the servers storing it be sold off if their current owner goes out of business, you have few assurances it will stay there.

Granted, you could look at companies like Google and Microsoft and declare that they will either never falter, or if they do, they’ll just transfer the data to the new owners, as would any other cloud storage company. But the problem here is that new owners often mean new infrastructure and the need to do migrations, updates, and server swaps. Individual accounts may get locked out or their data lost somewhere in the clutter. As long as a large company is convinced that it can make good money by studying your personal data for keywords which can be used by advertisers, it will offer free cloud storage of some sort, but if these companies fail to grow or are abandoned in favor of something new, expect them to either start charging or discontinuing their services altogether since all those servers could be put to other, more lucrative uses. Remember, you want that data to be accessible for years, and over years a lot of things can happen. What if a hacker attacks and your data was lost or mined for financial information or passwords? What if the company maintaining the servers is gone? If your data is in danger of being lost or inaccessible, someone will do something, right?

Well, it would be nice to think that they would offer you to download all your data back and place it somewhere new or handle the migration for you, but really, that would be a courtesy some companies may not offer if they go belly up fast enough. They have no obligation to deal with your data beyond trying to keep it secure and you have very little standing in demanding it back because you handed it over and agreed to the litany of legalese holding the cloud storage provider innocent of anything and everything that could possibly happen to your data on their servers, maybe even a robot uprising which turns the data center into the AI Overlord of the Cybernetic New World Order. I don’t know whether that’s really covered or not, but when was the last time you read those terms and conditions? Do you know for sure that you can get your content back if it gets gobbled up by an evil, could-based artificial intelligence? Of course there’s a rather easy way to deal with this while enjoying all the benefits of the cloud. Just keep recent personal backups. That way, if the worst comes to pass, you’ll have the most current copy of your data ready to be re-uploaded somewhere new. After all, it’s your data. Why let some company have it and trust that your digital stuff will never get lost no matter what happens?

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  • Paul451

    Heh. Coincidentally I lost access to my Gmail account (and all google services) over Christmas. Every attempt to log in was redirected to a page saying my google account had been deactivated due to “violations” of their Terms of Service. (I never found out what I’d done wrong. I don’t spam, don’t send or receive especially long attachments, don’t even use a fake (or non-anglo) name.) After I appealed, I was able to get access, but it’s bloody annoying to not even be able to read my emails, and not knowing if and how long it will take to appeal the deactivation and whether it will happen again.

    I heard that people were losing their google+ accounts (which I don’t use) because of google’s “real [sounding] name” policy, but I didn’t realise they were cutting off gmail, google-docs, etc… The whole damn point of global “cloud” services is they are supposed to make you immune to this sort of random arbitrary crap.

    (Not exactly on topic, but like the old joke goes, “Why am I telling you? I’m telling everybody!”)

  • Jypson

    This is a very good PSA! I hear the praises of cloud based services on a day-to-day basis, and it makes me cringe every time. It’s everything you described; convenient, liberating, efficient, but be mindful to use at your own risk. Once you give away your data, you’ve done just that.