Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cloudy thinking

Do you know where your data is?

Until recently, you would have answered, "On my computer, stupid."

But now we have The Cloud.

That's where many people are opting to store, and/or backup their Word and Excel documents, Powerpoint slides, personal photographs, family videos, financial information, and everything else that used to be on their own hard drives. In many cases, such as your e-mail or your online stock trading account, you have no choice.

For a decade, businesses have been using The Cloud, often paired with accounting and information management systems, to store their financial and customer data. Of course your Facebook, G-mail, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts are in The Cloud. This blog is in The Cloud. One of Google's businesses is managing health records for governments. Your medical history may be stored in Google's cloud.

Now this has arrived for consumers, thanks to Apple's iCloud and similar services.

Sounds nice, doesn't it. It evokes an image of benign, fluffy clouds scudding across the sky, but nothing could be more misleading. The Cloud is simply a collection of huge "server farms." A server farm is a giant, air conditioned building that houses huge numbers of hard drives.

If you opt to store your stuff in The Cloud, that's where you'll find it when you go looking. It's very convenient, enabling automatic backups and software updates, as well as access to your digital stuff from anywhere with all your devices.

The question is, who else has access to your info?

We've heard plenty lately about snooping by the U.S. National Security Agency and its Canadian equivalent, Communications Security Establishment Canada. Apparently, the Canadian government has no problem with American spooks keeping an eye on we Canadians, as our data is sent across the border to The Cloud which, it turns out, is mostly located in the U.S, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

As usual, big business is prepared to trade off your privacy for the potential of greater profits, as evidenced by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's lobbying against requirements to store personal information domestically, as BC and Nova Scotia have implemented.

How far does all this go? Who is poking around in The Cloud to see what they can find? How about companies who want to sell us stuff, and who find that easier when they know more about us? Big Data is the catchphrase on marketers tongues these days, and Big Data resides in The Cloud.

Frankly, I don't think you can go wrong by assuming that at least some of the players in the "Cloud" business are selling your info without your knowledge, despite assurances to the contrary.

Am I paranoid and anachronistic, or are you a bit creeped out by this, too?

My advice --- keep your digital stuff on your own hard drive, and install some good security software on your PC.

Stay out of The Cloud.

[Thanks to several articles by Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa for much of the above information.]


  1. Just saw the movie "Closed Circuit" which only added to my paranoia that "resistance is futile" as the Borg used to say. I wonder, in the cloud or out - would it make any difference??