The Decade of the Cloud is Here! Can We Trust It?

In the last ten years or so, people have become less reliant on file cabinets filled with years of work, organised to meticulous detail, because of the wonders of technology. We’ve since learnt to rely on hard drives, memory sticks and other forms of external digital storage to keep our work organised. Many people didn’t trust this at first. The moment a computer takes a blow from a virus or a splash of water, for example, that portfolio you only had one copy of is gone forever.

Well, now it’s time for another new means of storage, and it’s often a similar argument regarding the cloud: is it safe? Is it reliable? Well, on one side of the coin, it’s much more reliable, because no matter what happens to your laptop, your work will always be safe and sound on a cloud drive. After all, it isn’t stored on your computer, it is up on the web, safe from any hardware malfunctions your less than reliable computer may be having at the moment.

So great! The next phase in digital storage has arrived! No more half deleted essays or reports to redo! Right? Well, not exactly. While it may act as a great backup system should your laptop or local network snuff it, it may not be a good idea to rely on it entirely just yet. Any previous member of MegaUpload will tell you that. The old file storage site was taken down two years ago when it was seized by US government officials on suspicion of holding pirate material. It probably did, but the shutdown cost many innocent account holders their files. In fact, nearly 11 million files which were taken down with the website were perfectly legal.

And what about the simple fact that it isn’t stored on your computer anymore? It may be safely stored on the internet, but if you are nowhere near a WiFi connection then you aren’t getting hold of the file anytime soon. It isn’t on your computer, so if you have no internet connection, a cloud drive may as well be non-existent.

Cloud drive providers such as Google Drive, Microsoft’s SkyDrive or the ever popular Dropbox all have specific terms and conditions that you must adhere to. Violate any of those rules and not only will your account be suspended but your files will instantly be cut off.

The problem with these terms and conditions is the ambiguity. What you may see as a perfectly innocent file, i.e. a holiday photo with someone in their swimwear or a law protected file such as an eBook may be deemed as inappropriate by Google or Microsoft. Either way, you won’t know until you are locked out of your account.

Another problem is privacy. Anything on your hard drive is for your eyes only. It is your property and you are responsible for any storage on it. Your Google Drive is Google’s. Your SkyDrive is Microsoft’s, and any files you store on that drive can be subjected to monitoring at any point. If they find something they don’t like, then you can say goodbye to that account.

Cloud storage is still in its early phases and maybe new legislation will at some point in the future cut away some of the red tape. It’s still an intriguing concept, and maybe one day it will be seen as safe and secure, and as ‘personal’ as personal storage is. In the meantime, using it as backup can be useful, as can using it for keeping an open link between your work computer and your home laptop. For now though, you’d best make sure your hard drive isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.