Should You Trust Cloud Computing?

By Jonathan Timar

Cloud computing is here to stay, that much is clear. But should you trust your precious data to the cloud? If you were to ask me that question my answer would be a resounding “NO!”.

I believe that we are heading down a very dangerous path with cloud computing, and that few people have even given a single thought of the possible perils involved with computing on the cloud.

As I write this, millions of people the world over have trusted the cloud to look after their precious data, their photographs, their contacts, and it’s just the beginning. The powers that be are pushing for a world where not only your data, but the applications that access it, exist only on the cloud, on someone else’s server, where you have no control over it.

Imagine this scenario. You have dozens of photo albums filled with memories. Your travels, you family, your parents and grandparents, your wedding, your children, even your pets. You name it, your records of these people and events are stored in these albums. Now imagine that instead of keeping them safe at home, you handed them over to some corporation to look after, all without any kind of contract in place to protect your rights to them, or any promise to keep them safe.

Would you do it?

My guess is that you would not. And yet you probably think nothing of uploading a photo from your phone directly to Facebook.

If you are computer savvy, you probably know enough to keep the originals on your computer, and to back them up regularly. But if you’re not, you may not even know how to save the originals on your computer, or where to find them if they are already there. You’ve probably never even considered what would happen if Facebook were to ever shut down, or if it were to have a catastrophic server failure and lose your data.

This is just one example. Perhaps an even scarier example is the number of companies now entrusting their entire email system to Google. Indeed, companies are putting all of their faith in Google to process and archive important company email, many not even keeping local backups on their own PC or servers. It strikes me as lunacy, and yet seemingly few people are even aware or concerned about the possible consequences. Think about, would you ever give a third-party company control over the storage and archiving of your paper documents without a contract in place ensuring your rights to, and the safety of your data, or with a contract that limits your rights and protects only the company providing the service? Of course not, but companies and individuals are doing this every day with Google.

Google (and other tech companies) envision a world where your PC is nothing more that an access point to the cloud, where nothing is stored on your own computer at all, and your hard drive, if you even have one, serves only as a temporary “sync” point for data you happen to be working with at the time. You don’t even own the software you use, it’s available only on the cloud.

Does this sound like a good idea to you? If it does, you are a tad too trusting in my estimation.

What is the cloud anyway?

There’s  lots of talk about cloud computing. Unless You are living under a rock, if you do anything with a computer it’s hard to imagine you haven’t heard someone mention that the future of computing is in the cloud, or that we are moving towards the cloud, etc. If you haven’t yet, you soon will as Apple forges ahead with iCloud, bound to become the most visible example of cloud computing, especially so since it’s the only example I can think of that actually uses the word “cloud” in the name.

But what is it exactly anyway?

Essentially “cloud computing” is a catchy name for “server based computing”. Right now, for the most part, your computing life is still centred around your PC. While you may also have a tablet, or a smart phone, the majority of your data is stored on your computer. This means that to access the data on more than one of your devices, you have to copy it over, either manually, or through the use of some kind of syncing system.

Admittedly, this is not the most elegant way of doing things, and hasn’t really worked all that well over the years.

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    Cloud computing solves this by moving the hub for your data from your computer, and onto the internet, or more specifically, unless you are savvy enough to set up your own cloud, onto a third-party company’s server. Now you can access it from any device, as long as you have an internet connection, and this is a good thing.

    The cloud is not bad…

    Cloud computing in and of itself is not a bad thing, it is actually pretty awesome in a lot of ways. Being able to update the calendar on my phone and have it automatically sync with via the cloud with the calendar on my computer is a tremendous benefit to me. And being able to log in to Facebook and to show a friend a photo that’s on there is a pretty nice too.

    But making USE of the cloud, and giving the CLOUD control are two different things, and I strongly suggest you avoid doing the latter at all costs. You must keep local copies of your important documents, emails, photos, videos, contacts etc. safely on your own PC, and use the cloud as an accessory to, not as a replacement for local storage.

    Failure to do this, and belief in the so-called “post-pc era” as Apple and Google like to call it, is foolhardy.

    The social media cloud

    How many social networks do you belong to? How many of them are benefiting you? How much time do you spend on each one?

    Social media, is perhaps the most visible example of cloud computing. Facebook is not just a website, it’s a networking application that exists on the internet, and to which the entire world has access. Facebook is fun. Facebook can help people stay connected. It can be used for business as well as pleasure. Increasingly, companies advertise their Facebook Page rather than their website, and people converse not through email, but through Facebook messaging.

    If that doesn’t worry you, it should. Websites are owned by the company or person behind them. Email addresses, at least those on one’s own domain name, are portable, and likewise in control of the person or company that owns them. Both run on web servers located around the world, and owned by thousands and thousands of different companies. It’s decentralized, and no one company controls them.

    Not so with Facebook. If Facebook wants to shut down your company’s page it can do so at any time. You have no control over it. If Facebook decides you have violated some rule buried deep with its terms of service, they can cut off access to your account and everything stored within it at any time they want, and there will be nothing you can do about it. Even if you could, these company have no customer service whatsoever, so good luck getting any help if you need it.

    I bring up this point because I want to stress that social media is something that is outside of your control, and therefore should always be treated as secondary to those things that are within your control. It is infinitely better to focus your efforts on your website, your email list, and properties that you own and control.

    A final consideration is that there are just too many social networks to use them all effectively. Pick one or two, and focus on those ones only.

    In Summary…

    Use the cloud, don’t let it use you. If all of your contacts are stored with Google or Facebook, get busy and back them up. If you share your photos on Facebook, make sure you’re also saving them on your computer. If you sync documents to the cloud, be certain that you routinely copy an up to date version onto your own hard drive.

    Be smart. Don’t give up control over your own data.