The Cloud
July 24, 2011

I'm not a proponent of the cloud.

To me, the cloud is the most aptly named new "tech" that we've created: it's insubstantial, it's not always easily accessible and at the same time, as many are finding out to their detriment, like the clouds in the sky, it can be easily seen by many.

I understand the allure. Not being tied to one specific machine is an enticing one. It's hard to know you have something you need at home, but not work. And particularly if you travel a lot, you can't always take your workhorse machine with you, so you have to hope you've transferred everything you'll need to a travel-machine - or that you'll have access to that workhorse in some way and can download what you need, when you need it.

But I'm seeing more and more people beginning to move to the cloud, to trust the cloud. Maybe I'm just a suspicious bastard, but I find this to be a mistake.

1) Not every location has reliable internet service.
2) Not every location has reasonably fast internet service.
3) The more popular the platform/service, the more likely it will be hacked or compromised.
4) Not every service has acceptable Terms of Service - many, in fact, do not protect you, your account or your data.
5) What happens if/when that service you rely upon goes out of business? Or, in some ways, worse, their servers are seized in an unrelated investigation?

I think number 1 and 2 are relatively self-explanatory. Folks with a reliable connection seem to forget that there are huge areas where either the reliability or the speed are simply not up to par. I've seen presenters at conferences burned when the upload/download speed of the hotel internet was simply not up to the task. Areas where storms take out the internet on a regular basis. Areas where throttling is practiced, even when the ISP claims they don't throttle. Even when going to a tech conference in a large city, you simply cannot rely on the reliability and speeds of the local internet support the cloud.

3) The more popular the platform/service, the more likely it will be hacked or compromised. This one is just a given of the computer age. It's not a deal-breaker on its own as of yet, but it's something that every computer user, cloud-based or not, should keep in mind. Most people who know me know that I'm an avid Apple fan ... for now. One benefit has always been that my machine and software have always just worked. Another is there have been almost no worries about virus or hacking issues. That's not so true now that Apple is starting to gain more and more market share. I'm still an Apple person.

But, as Apple's popularity is on the rise, so are Apple-specific attacks. I try not to be complacent any more. And it's the same with any cloud service. Using the cloud to store your data without any other backup, is, in my opinion, a serious mistake. Between connectivity issues and the likelihood that hackers will target a popular service increase, I'm leery of leaving any data in the cloud for very long. The longer information is there, the more popular the service, the more likely my data will become compromised.

And then we come down to numbers four and five, which for me, tend to be deal-breakers.

4) Terms of Service. Here's where there are real issues. Even the ones which attempt to write in "plain English" often don't come across well enough for the average person to really feel comfortable with. The plain and simple fact right now is that the law has not caught up with the speed of the internet. Twitpic, YFrog, Google+ have all been hit by this, as have other services. The problem is that these services need permission to store and to transmit your data and the legal phrasing makes it sound to the average person, as if that service is claiming the rights to your data for their own nefarious purposes. Most services have been quick to jump in on public outcry and insist that's not what they meant.

The problem here is that the law has just not caught up to the realities of the digital age. There's a lot of leeway in how thing are phrased and what they mean. We don't have good, reliable precedents set up yet. There's a lot of security holes here and a lot of uncertainties.

On the other hand, what is on my hard drive or thumb drive is on my control. If I'm paranoid about what's on there, I can create or use a program to hard-erase it in an emergency. I can't be sure that a like program would irrevocably erase all data from any given service. The service and their servers are not under my control - and neither is my data.

In addition to who owns or controls the data, there are also issues with your account in general. Right now, Google + is coming under fire for closing out accounts of people where they think the name is not "real." Leaving the "real" name definition alone for now, think about this for a moment. How many people have gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and more all tied into one account? And what happens when that account is closed unexpectedly? What happens when you do not have access to your email or other data?

There have been numerous accounts lately of people discovering their account has been closed WITHOUT ANY NOTICE TO THE USER. In many cases, without evidence as well. In other words, just some troll or angry acquaintance can, in many services, get your account shut down. Meanwhile you lose days of productivity and in the case of email services, perhaps time-sensitive, vital data and work offers. You're left trying to prove a negative to a large entity which really doesn't care about getting your account back to you, much less your data.

It's a scary thought that my email account could be hijacked by a service at any time with little or no warning even if I've done nothing wrong.

And then there's reason 5: what if the service disappears? They go out of business. Close down. How do you get your data now? Yes, you should always back up your data, but we all know there's a time gap between the most conscientious back-up plan and what you've recently worked on. And we all know that most of us are not diligent enough about backing up our data.

In addition, if the service goes out of business, how are they disposing of their servers? Your data is on there. Auctioning off the servers might mean that your data was not sufficiently cleaned off the drives.

For me, there are too many variables for me to trust the cloud. I've too often lived in places where my connection is not great, not reliable. I've seen multiple services either go under or be bought by other companies that I do not trust. I've known many people who've had part if not all of their online identity hacked - often causing "real world" issues.

In all, I don't think that every use of the cloud is a bad thing. I simply feel that a lot of people - both the working joes and the bleeding edge technophiles - are not always thinking this through before committing everything to the cloud. And that concerns me most. Not that the cloud exists or is used ... but that too many people are not necessarily thinking this all the way through.

The cloud, to me, is just a cloud. It's nice to lay on my back in the summer time, looking at the sky and dreaming of all of the thing the cloud could be ... but I'm far too practical to believe that the cloud is anything but a dream or something more than fleeting.

The concept is nice. It's utopian.

But I no longer believe in utopias. They are certainly thing to strive for - otherwise what is the point in life? But they are fraught with issues that we've not yet considered.

I guess I am just an old, suspicious bastard now.

Suspicious and tired old bastard

Posted by Red Monkey at July 24, 2011 10:24 PM | Blog | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Mrs4444 said:

See, now that's where I'm lucky--When the power goes out in our house, rather than freak out (like my husband) and run around trying to fix it, I relax and enjoy the true SILENCE in the house. When it comes to the whole computer thing, it's kind of ironic I suppose (me being so techy and all), but if I lost it all, I think I'd be okay. I'm very sensitive, in a "can't help but cry at kids' concerts" and "that's just not right!" way, but when it comes to attachment to "things," I'm not all that attached. Besides, I'd have something to blame it on.

August 10, 2011 12:32 AM
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