Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is the Cloud the right form of Data Storage?

Today there are several vendors offering cloud based file storage: Google DriveDropBox  , Microsoft Sky Drive, Apple iCloud, SugarSync, Mega Cloud etc. These cloud services are built for individual users or small businesses. The world media is going all out to promote the cloud technology, and all the high tech companies are going ga-ga about cloud technology.

As an early adopter of technologies, I have been using DropBox for years, and iCloud for sometime. After using these cloud based storage offerings, I have come to a different conclusion.  To me, (and for most users) there are lot of challenges & issues with the cloud data storage.

For the most part, users will never think of the hidden issues with the cloud. Occasionally we come across an article about privacy issues with Facebook. But that was just the small tip of the huge hidden iceberg.

The iceberg I am referring to is called "data deletion".

In the good old days before computers, people had data in form of books or diaries or paper files. This was protected in shelves or cabinets. When the owner of the files/data wanted to get rid of it, he/she could destroy it - by shredding it into pieces or burning it. In this world, a destroyed file was truly deleted.

But now in the Internet era, a file which gets uploaded into the cloud - gets copied in several locations. The files also get backed up and archived, so when the user deletes the file - is the file truly deleted? Are all copies of the file in the cloud deleted?

Currently, that is not the case. The data in the cloud tends to live forever.

Imagine a scenario where a bunch of young kids go out on a spring break, get drunk, and do all sorts of crazy things, and  upload the videos/photos of it on Internet. After the "crazy" spring break vacation, they get back into their senses and delete the video/photos. Later in their lives, say 30 years after that incident, one of the persons in the group stands for an election. In the heat of an highly contested election, the old "deleted" files pop up - ruining the chances of the person winning any election.

This snare is 100% possible. The data in the cloud is not being deleted. A copy of that data/file can exist in some archive.

This problem brings up two interesting issues with the cloud:

1. How to delete data in the cloud?
2. Who owns the deleted files?

The current rules and regulation do not impose any mandate on file deletion. In fact all the current rules and regulations do the opposite - ensure that the data /files are not deleted. Most companies do not have an active Information Life Cycle systems, so the emails I wrote a decades ago are still stored in some tape or drive.

Even when the user deletes the data, the files can exist in some archive tapes, from which some can access it. (yes, the data is supposed to be encrypted, but with time, technology advances that today's encryption technology can be easily broken in future).

So when someone accesses your "deleted" data, do you have any right over it?

Adding to the complexity of the issue, the cloud data storage spans across national boundaries. And that raises another question - which country's law is applicable? What is the jurisdiction of the courts?

The legal complexities associated with the cloud are enormous (see: Big Legal Risks with Cloud Computing.)

Data/File ownership rights are not clear and there are no laws to protect the users.

So in a nutshell, cloud data storage posses enormous risks. So use cloud storage with caution. Never post images, home videos, or sensitive files on the cloud. I use cloud storage as a scratch space, which I can afford to loose and has no significant value and does not contain any personal information.

1 comment:

Nilay Shrivastava said...

I have a question here....What about the pics and the videos that are being uploaded in sites like facebook and youtube? Don't they use cloud services? And even if they don't there is a good possibility of them having a private cloud of their own. Are regulations enough to stop them creating the problems you highlighted in this post?