The Dangers of Cloud Storage
Over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve moved more of my data to “the cloud.” This means more of my data is stored on servers that are accessible via the Internet. I can access my data from any computer with an Internet connection.
This means I’m no longer dependent on any single computer or hard drive to access important documents and information. And I can travel more easily since I can do almost anything I need to do from almost any computer — whether it’s my computer or not.
Indeed, cloud storage has made my life simpler.
But for all the merits of cloud storage there are still numerous dangers of using the cloud — dangers that are only beginning to emerge. Here are a few risks associated with relying too heavily on cloud storage.
Unexpected Changes in Terms of Service
Dropbox is one of the more popular cloud storage services. I’ve used it for specific client projects before. It’s convenient and easy to use.
Nevertheless, Dropbox updated its Terms of Service in July 2011. The new legalese caused many Dropbox customers to lose trust in the company. Heated discussions took place on message boards and blogs all over the Internet.
Since then, Dropbox has clarified their Terms of Service to allay people’s fears. Still, the point remains: The company that provides your cloud storage could at any time change their Terms of Service such that your data is at risk.
Sudden Account Suspension or Deletion
Google’s erratic behavior with regard to AdWords, AdSense, YouTube, and Gmail accounts is now well-known.
Thousands of Google accounts have been suspended without notice or any kind of recourse. All the data stored in those accounts probably still exists, but it can no longer be accessed by the one person who needs it most: the person who created it.
Google has many cloud-based services. The most popular one, of course, is Gmail. Others include Google Docs, Google Groups, Google Reader, iGoogle, Google Bookmarks, YouTube, Picasa, Blogger, and more.
If you use any of these services, you are at the mercy of Google. What happens when a power-tripping employee shuts down your account… or your group… and then denies you the courtesy of even the smallest explanation?
Big Companies Become Targets for Law Enforcement
The bigger the cloud storage service, the more likely they will become a target for “law enforcement.”
I use that term loosely because we’re quickly slipping toward a police state where federal agents seize data and physical property based on hunches, false accusations, and pretense. Following due process of law is becoming the exception to the rule.
If you store data with high-profile companies, your risk goes up. All it would take is some trumped-up charges for law enforcement agents to gain access to all your sensitive data.
Most big companies cave to government demands because they have too much to lose. They’d rather sacrifice a few unlucky customers than pick a fight with a nasty alphabet agency.
Issues with Encryption and Security
Some cursory research reveals distrust in certain forms of encryption used by some cloud storage companies. In other words, the security of your data will vary depending on who you choose to maintain it.
Furthermore, there may be security settings you need to tighten up the moment you set up your account. Private files are often accidentally indexed by Google due to improper security settings. This makes it easy for snoops to find your data, download it, and distribute it.
Be Smart About Choosing a Cloud Storage Provider
It might seem like I’m against cloud storage. I’m not. I’m still a big fan of the concept.
But for it to be a safe long-term solution, you must exercise caution. You must do your research and know exactly what you’re getting into.
Here’s a brief list of storage services to investigate (these are not affiliate links — just a list of providers I put together):
By the way, I’ve been using Google Docs for most of my writing and file storage to avoid any cross-compatibility issues when switching between a Mac and PC. I also use Basecamp for project management. But I’m thinking it’s time to start using a paid cloud storage service.
If you have any experience with cloud storage, recommendations, or warnings, please leave a comment below. I would love your input.
-Ryan M. Healy