The Promise and Peril of Life in the Cloud
By Joseph D. Lienjdlien. Tuesday, June 7, 2011 7:17:37 AM
As Apple introduces iCloud today, it is apparent that more and more of our lives are about to move into the Internet. The convenience and advantages this are many, but could there be a dark side?
Today Apple has unveiled their future cloud-services offering called 'iCloud', a free service that keeps your contacts, calendar, photos, and much more on Apple servers so that it can automatically and seamlessly sync to different iOS devices. This makes one's data accessible from anywhere, and removes the hassle of manually syncing devices.
Beyond this, purchased books, music, and applications will also be made readily available via iCloud to be downloaded on any of an individual's iOS devices at any time. These sorts of cloud services are certainly not anything terribly new or Earth shattering in their own right -- for instance much of the same kinds of synchronization and cloud services have been offered by Google for years and integrated into the Android platform. Heck, even our own Opera Link is conceptually similar, synchronizing your important browser data in the cloud for you to access on any of your devices.
This paints an interesting picture of where the future is at. And I'm not sure if I'm more excited or nervous.
Clearly, the move is being made by technology companies and their users to getting more and more of our lives uploaded into these enigmatic network services. It's a gradual, invisible kind of process. It probably started, for most of us, with our email, then things like contact information, and our dialog with friends on chat services. Now we're getting our photos up there, and soon our music collections. Netflix has also become an incredibly popular service, purportedly consuming vast percentages of Internet bandwidth in some regions as people stream movies and TV shows over the Internet. Soon, our digital lives will be uploaded to and accessed primarily from the cloud.
This kind of always-on access to our data from anywhere is sure to make our lives easier. We will no longer have many reasons to have a big computer with (relatively) giant hard drives. We don't have to worry about forgetting a file we needed after leaving home. We don't have to dilligently remember to back up our old files regularly. If a computer dies -- no problem, get it fixed and the data is downloaded back from the cloud.
This is a pleasant, reassuring scenario, but on the other hand, this could place sudden, unexpected strains on data networks everywhere, causing Internet access to become more expensive in the short-term. More importantly, there are far reaching implications for privacy and security. It could take little more than a haphazardly misplaced password, or a trojan of some sort to have all the details of your life cracked open and at a hacker's mercy.
Going forward most of us will be heavily invested in the cloud -- and perhaps also at its mercy. We'll be more vulnerable in many ways as well... but if we want these many conveniences afforded by this technology, then that is a risk we must be willing to take, and diligently mitigate. It is very important to ensure that passwords are strong, changed frequently, not reused between critical services, and not divulged to anyone.
It is also important, where possible, to be a bit selective about precisely what data you want in the cloud -- although it's getting so trivial to automatically put it all there. But those drunken party photos you put on Facebook as a teenager could come back to haunt you when you begin to initiate your middle-aged political career. And once that data is outside of your control, it could become nearly impossible to get rid of it.
If you'd like to learn the basics about cloud computing, read this highly entertaining article.