The Cloud: questions you should ask yourself before storing data in it

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 23, 2012
Updated • Dec 26, 2012

The rise of cloud storage in the past two or so years was fueled largely by an increase in mobile Internet usage. Barely any smartphone gets released these days without Internet access and an app store that users can make use of to install apps on their phones. They can then browse the Internet, check emails, post updates to Twitter or Facebook, or play online games with other people. With mobile Internet came the desired to synchronize data like contact lists, the calendar or emails between clients,and with rising Internet speeds came the desire to access documents and files for entertainment on the go as well.

Hosting data in the cloud has consequences though, and it is highly recommended to understand what those consequences will be before making any data available in the cloud. The following questions can help you significantly in making that decision.

cloud storage
photo by akakumo

What happens to your data when the service is canceled?

If you cancel the service or delete your account, what will happen to your data? Will it be deleted securely with the account, or will it remain to be available on the servers? If the latter is true, will it be there for a specific amount of time or forever? And if that is the case, is there a way to force the service to delete your data?

But there is another situation that you need to consider: if the cloud hosting provider terminates your account, will this have consequences on other activities? The files are usually synchronized with a computer and available, but what if you use your account for other activities? A SkyDrive account for instance may be linked to Xbox Live or an email account, and if it gets terminated by Microsoft because of something that you have uploaded to SkyDrive, you may also lose access to other services as a consequence.

Should I make this file available without protection?

Once you have signed up for a service you need to understand that files that you upload to the Internet may be accessible by the company offering the service. While there are usually strict guidelines in place that regulate when and how data can be accessed, it means that in theory data can be accessed if it is not protected - read encrypted- before it is uploaded.

This resolves another issue that you may run into. At least some cloud synchronization services use automation to scan files for contents that are against the services' terms of service. With encryption, you won't run into a situation where an automated check may block you from accessing your account as the scanner can't identify the files that you have uploaded.

Some services may also scan the files for profiling or advertising purposes. This begins with the file names and types, how and when the service, is used, from where it is accessed and so on.

You also need to consider how the data is transferred between your devices and the servers of the provider that you have selected. Is the provider using encryption to protect the files during transfer?

In short: if your files are important either use encryption before you move them into the cloud, or do not upload them to the cloud at all.

Where are my files hosted?

It is important to know where the servers of the cloud hosting service are located? It depends. For home users it is usually not really a consideration, but businesses may have regulations that prevent them from uploading files to servers in foreign countries. The server's location may also impact download and upload speeds, and latency.

If you are not living in the US but select a cloud hosting provider in the US, your data may be subject to the USA Patriot Act.

In closing

Moving your files into the cloud opens up a new can of risks that most computer users are probably unaware of.  Providers too make it look easy - and it is - to start synchronizing data with a cloud server, but they often fail to address concerns that savvy users may have.

Have you moved your files to the cloud? If so, which service provider are you using for that and why?


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  1. Gregg DesElms said on July 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Oh, Martin… THANK YOU for this article! I LOVE this article. Good article! [grin] (Did I say I love this article?) Great advice.

    And I could not more agree with the concerns it presents. Yippee! Turns out I’m not the only one to be entirely suspicious and unconvinced about the cloud…

    …that said, I completely get its both potential and actual usefulness. But even then, I confess that I tend to use it more as a transfer mechanism than a storage repository.

    The question of what happens if the cloud service goes away is a particularly good one. Younger folks think that stuff on the Internet will be there forever. But we old dudes have seen even BIG dogs go out of business… some of them in the dark of night, with no warning, and with our stuff on their hard drives. It happens WAY more than one might think; and it’s not always organized and pretty such that one can get all of ones files off the soon-to-be-shut-down system. It’s one of the biggest and most important concerns posed by the article, in my opinion.

    Another poster, here, mentioned MegaUpload and how people with stuff on its servers got screwed when law enforcement seized all of its servers. That’s, indeed, a risk…

    …except, c’mon, don’t pee on our legs and then tell us it’s raining: MegaUpload users were largely doing illegal file sharing, and warez, and all kinds of other stuff… some of it even child porn. Seriously. Did any of them, then, really and truly expect the hammer never to fall? Seriously? C’mon! Get a freakin’ clue, for godsake. Everyone who hasn’t fallen on his/her head too many times in life knows how to avoid such things; knows which services are legit and reputable, and which aren’t; and only uses such services for legal things, in any case.

    People who break the law — regardless whether it’s good or bad law, as long as it’s the law — should expect that it will eventually be somehow interrupted by law enforcement. If a law’s bad (and I’m talking, in the case of those who used such as MegaUpload, about things like RIAA, etc.), then the solution is not to break the law, but, rather, to change it. That’s how representative democracy in a democratic republic like the US works. Like it or not.

    Moreover, if everyone who breaks such as the RIAA-related laws would simply redirect the time they spend doing it to organizing and getting the law changed, RIAA as we now know it would not even exist; would be a thing of the past… because it would have been changed long ago. Yes, it’s hard. Anything worth doing and having is SUPPOSED to be hard. And, yes, it can take some time. But, trust me, enough people, focused on a single goal, can get it done. The corporations have not so taken over (yet) that that still doesn’t work. Trust me. I’m an activist; I see it all the time. Don’t break the law. Rather, change it. If everyone who used MegaUpload had bothered to do that, then MegaUpload would still exist, today. Actually, wait… come to think of it, MegaUpdoad and its law-breaker ethos would actually not even be needed, at that point; so who knows if it would still be around just for cloud purposes. Interesting thing to ponder, eh? But I digress. Sorry.

    Even decent cloud backup scares me a little… even the really good ones like… oh… lemme think… oh… okay, Carbonite, for example, just to name a particularly good one. They still scare me. Plus, they use-up all kinds of unecessary bandwidth. Other than if my house burns down, and takes not only my computer, but my back-up external drives with it, how is using-up my AT&T DSL’s 150GB monthly capped usage by constantly syncing my computer’s hard drive with Carbonite’s cloud really going to help me…

    …especially when, being the old-fashioned IT pro that I am, I have duplicate external backup drives which I rotate out of my home and take to the office; and duplicate office external backup drives which I rotate out of my office and take home? What are the odds that BOTH places will burn down on the same night? Pretty small, I’ll wager. Er… well… at least now that I’ve broken-up with that crazy… er… never mind. (Just kidding… I’m happily married. I just saw a joke opportunity, and took it! Couldn’t help myself.)

    Limited bandwidth makes untenable such things as using the cloud for such as streaming, too. I’d LOVE to use the whopping 20,000 MP3 file limit that comes with my Google Play Music account! What a cool thing! Most people will never have that many .MP3 files… only musicians, maybe. I happen to have even more, but I’m a musician, and also a folk/acoustic/singer-songwriter and indiginous music both lover (with eclectice musical tastes, to boot, so I love pretty much every other kind of music, too) and concert promoter (in my spare time), and so I think, at last count, I actually had something like 80,000 .MP3 files spread-out over three external USB-connected drives. But I know I’m the exception; and that for the vast majority of people, their ENTIRE music collection — maybe even for life — could be stored, for free, in Google’s incredible Play Music service.

    However, then you have to use-up bandwidth every time you want to listen. Ugh! Even Android phone unlimited data accounts aren’t really unlimited in the sense that most of them will slow down (because they’re intentionally speed-choked) once a certain monthly threshold is reached; and for the rest of us with normal, limited monthly Android phone accounts (mine is 2GB/mo from AT&T ) I can’t THINK of a faster way to rack-up a $10/GB overage charge or two from a month’s worth of streaming all of one’s music listened to through the phone from such as the otherwise really cool Google Play Music cloud. I’d rather just keep it all on my three external USB drives, and copy whatever music I might want to hear from there to my phone via either USB cable or WI-FI. That’s partly why I popped for a 32GB external SD card for the phone, precisely so I’d have tons of room for tons of stuff — like music, for example — if I ever decided to store some there.

    So, between security issues, bandwidth usage, reliability, and availability… oy!… the cloud… I dunno. Not so really worth it, I think. And if you add, then, actually PAYING for it by subscribing to some kind of cloud service (rather than using the freeware stuff)… yikes! Then, atop all that, add the considerations posed by the questions in the article: DOUBLE yikes!

    Yeah… again… cloud… I dunno. Don’t get me wrong, I can see the upsides… some of them really huge. I get that. But the downsides, considered collectively… yeah… I dunno.

    As to which cloud services I use, that one’s easy. I’ve got accounts all over the place, because I’ve long been investigating the cloud services, and figuring out what’s good or bad about each. In the end, though, I notice that I kinda’ only use a tiny handful of them, if at all. And, again, I notice that it’s mostly for file transfer (or sharing) purposes.

    A lot of it has been influenced in the past year or so by my Android phone. I’m actually somewhat surprised by how that phone, alone, has manifestly affected how I do all of my computering (is that actually a word? A rhetorical question… don’t answer) across all devices, now. I was unprepared for how that all worked-out… though I’m not saying I’m unhappy about it.

    For example, I must use Dropbox, whether or not I want to (and I’m not saying I don’t like Dropbox other than what’s with the 2GB limit on free accounts… everyone else is at 5GB these days… get a clue, Dropbox!), because I use the Phone2Chrome tool…

    …which requires a Dropbox account because that’s what it uses to transfer the link URL to the Chrome (or any Chromium) browser which has the companion Phone2Chrome plugin…

    …installed on the home or office PC or laptop. (Interestingly, doing it in reverse — sending a link URL from the Chrome(ium) browser to the phone — using reverse-named Chrome2Phone product requires no Dropbox (or any other kind of) cloud account.) There are other phone-to-Chrome-type products out there… other ways of achieving it, but I’ve tried them all and, in the end, the first one to have done it — Phone2Chrome, using Dropbox — turns out to be the best.

    So, right there, my phone dictated that I use Dropbox… not that I wasn’t already using it, even before I got the phone, but I’m just sayin’.

    Beyond that, let me tell you the weird way that my phone dictated what other cloud services I use, and with which I’ve decided not to bother (even if I have an account there)…

    After trying pretty much every Android file manager out there (and being second-most impressed, in the end, with the unlikely “File Expert” which I recommend unless you think what I’m about to mention is better… and it might be), I’ve finally settled on, of all things…

    X-plore by Lonely Cat Games (hate that company name)

    …which, all things considered, is just plain hot. First let me say, though, that File Expert is truly great (though its maker needs to learn a thing or two about color palettes, and why he should not try to be creative with colors just ’cause he thinks it’s cool to be different). The only real downside I can think of is that File Expert has always been freeware; but then relatively recently the developer created a donation version, but removed a feature or two from the freeware version and put them into the donation version. That wasn’t the right way to do it. He should have thought-up some new features and put THEM into the donation version, rather than taking something away from the freeware version. Needless to say, he’s now ticked-off tons of formerly-loyal freeware users. Shame on him for at least that. But other than that faux paus, I’ll be darned if File Expert, all things considered, isn’t pretty hot. I even like it better than, for example (and believe it or not), ES File Explorer or the venerable Astro… yes, even better than that. Add to File Expert all of its various add-ons and companion tools (all of them free, as I recall), and you’ve really got yourself one heck of a file manager system on which you can standardize and settle, and never be worried that you’re leaving features on the table. It’s really quite good!

    But then I stumbled onto X-plore… the unassuming little also-ran that really surprised me. Its interface takes some getting used to, I concede; but, honestly, when you really and truly take the time to figure out what’s there, it’s hard to imagine what else you’d need. And it’s so much less all full of itself and convoluted than most other file managers. I’m surprised, actually, by how much I ended-up liking it. With the most recent major change to my phone (upgrading it to Gingerbread), I decided to install only X-plore, and not also File Expert… which also surprised me. And I’ve not looked back. I’ve yet to discover what File Expert and/or any of its add-ons/plugins does which I can’t also do — and easier/faster/better — with X-plore. Seriously.

    So, then, that brings me to how my phone has helped to dictate what cloud services I’m using. X-plore (at least until it recently and inexplicably added the no-one’s-ever-heard-of-it Yadex.disk cloud service) confines itself to “talking” to only the “big” dogs of cloud services…

    * Google Drive
    * Dropbox
    * SugarSync
    * SkyDrive

    …and, of course, WebDav (which is actually a protocol, not a cloud service). That’s it. And, stop and think about it: What more, really, does anyone need? Seriously. Think about it.

    That that was it. Once I decided to standardize on X-plore on my phone, and it limited itself to only what really mattered in terms of which cloud services it “talks” to, my decision of which cloud services I use was kinda’ made for me. And it was almost a relief! No more suffering from overchoice! Gotta’ like that.

    So, I dunno ’bout anybody else, but that’s what I use, and why I use it. As for HOW I use it, I gotta’ be honest, I don’t use it much… and when I do, it’s mostly just for file transfer or sharing, or to make sure I can access certain needed files if I’m away from my desktop-replacement notebook computer (which isn’t often, I should add)…

    …which brings me to the final point I wanted to make in response to this article: Creating one’s own cloud.

    There are several pieces of software out there — a few of them freeware or open source — which, when run and allowed to sit in the background, in the System Tray (or, as Microsoft now wants us to call it, the “Notification Area”… oy), can turn pretty much any computer (and all hard drives attached thereto) into one’s own personal cloud.

    There are also some hardware devices… like the Tonido Plug (the software for which works, at least a little bit, even without the “plug” hardware… definitely check it out), for example, which is excellent for people whose only computer is a notebook, yet they’d like to have a machine running back home to which they can connect… like their own cloud. The best way to do that, of course, is to actually have a computer — maybe an old desktop — running on the home LAN, and to which all monster external drives are connected; and then make sure the home LAN is always Internet-connected (and the notebook connects to said LAN whenever it, too, is at home), and, voila!, you’ve got yourself your own cloud, as long as you have the right software running.

    The hardware Tonido component — the so-called “Tonido Plug” — is cool, though, because it can be the home computer, of sorts… it’s a least a hard drive controller type device that “talks” out to the Internet and so may be “seen” by your phone or notebook when you and they are out in the field and feeling a little cloudy. It’s nice, but there are some file size and transfer limits in the freeware version of the software, so that has to be taken into consideration.

    I, personally, have a desktop replacement notebook that lays into a docking station and can, therefore, be connected to my home LAN in an instant. And then, also connected to said home LAN (intentionally hard wired, not wirelessly) is my previous notebook, from which I’ve stripped all but basically Windows and only the utilities it needs to function just like a home server… I call it my “pseudo-server.” Then pretty much all my external drives — backup and mass/archival storage — connect to it, with all of said drives fully shared. Then, because my DSL has a dynamic IP address, I use a service like DYN (but not actually DYN) to “publish” my ever-changing home LAN’s IP address to a place where my domain name, controlled thru eNom, can “find” it and connect me to it whenever I type, in the notebook’s or phone’s browser, my special URL to my home LAN when I’m out in the field. Of course I’m firewalled up the yingyang (via a dedicated hardware firewall, the pseudo-firewall that’s built-in to my router, and a software firewall on the pseudo-server) to protect myself. And, so far, no

    That, in the end, is really the best way to do it… with your own cloud. As long as you do proper, old-fashioned, daily incremental backups (usually via simple syncing) to one of those external drives connected to the pseudo-server, and also bother to actually rotate the backup drive out to an external location every week (swapping it with another duplicate drive), then one can actually get away with never using cloud storage for backup, and one will still never lose anything… or at least not much. So, then, in fact, that, finally, brings me to the other way that I use cloud storage…

    …to backup only what I might lose if my backup drive at home got destroyed by fire on the sixth day of the week, just before the seventh day on which I physically swapped-out the drives.

    The cloud is absolutely PERFECT for that. Prior to the cloud, if one lost a backup drive just before a weekly physical swap, then one lost six or so days of data… which is unacceptable. The cloud, though, using something like Carbonite (though there are tons of others that are just as good) can backup just that much data, and no other, so that no matter what, no data is lost.

    That’s how I use the cloud. And even then, only grudgingly. [grin]

    Oh, yeah… one more thing: In addition to the aforementioned daily syncing incrementals, I also do at least a monthly whole-system, bare-metal snapshot/backup. I’ve tried and use several tools for that, but I’ve been kinda’ liking the freeware…

    Redo Backup

    …lately. It’s pretty darned nice, all things considered. Makes a monthly warts-and-all image of my hard drive which I can then use as a starting point for recovery if my notebook’s hard drive fails; and then I build on said recovery image with the incrementals until I’m right back to literally the instant (because of how I use the cloud to augment the syncing-to-external-drives of the absolutely most current only-a-week’s-worth) that the drive failure occured.

    Nice. A little involved, I admit, but after 35+ years of backing stuff up every other possible way on earth, this way that I’ve now constructed is pretty straightforward, at least to me. And it’s absolutely foolproof, by comparison with old ways.

    Anyway… hope that helps!

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  2. Paul B. said on July 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    IMO, Cloud storage is best used in addition to local backups, not in place of them. That way if there’s a cloud disaster, you’ve still got your data. And if there’s a local disaster, like fire or theft, you’ve again still got your data.

    And then there are the conveniences the cloud offers:

    – syncing among multiple machines: home, office, on the road, among family or co-workers, etc. This is a major benefit.

    – filesharing: just send the link, and large files can be downloaded using full 8 bit rather than email’s 7bit encoding, which adds 33% to the file size.

    I tried spideroak when I first became interested in local encryption, but couldn’t get the service to work at all, and abandoned it.

  3. Wayfarer said on July 24, 2012 at 1:39 am

    The appeal of cloud storage largely escapes me.

    Given that most people using broadband are on ADSL, it doesn’t take long with cloud storage to find out what the A in ADSL stands for.

    Cloud sync/storage can provide a valuable service for some people. But 90% of home users don’t need it other than to be ‘cool’. For the average home user external USB HD or pendrive storage is easier, more secure and far more practical.

  4. Mike said on July 23, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Suppose your online storage provider service (Megaupload) has its assets seized due to
    accusations / evidence of piracy having NOTHING to do with your activity under said service
    provider. Can you pull your data from said providers systems or will your data be inacessible
    for the duration of the unfolding case (See US Government vs Kyle Goodwin)?:

  5. jay said on July 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    How do you encrypt your files automatically?
    I hate going through one by one archiving it with .rar and put a password on it, i don’t know if this id good enough encryption wise but yeah and automated encrypter would be awesome

    1. antrek said on July 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      Several cloud storage providers automatically encrypt files on the client side before uploading them to the server. Check out spideroak, wuala,

    2. Paul B. said on July 23, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      That’s good enough if your key is strong. But to encrypt automatically there are two programs available: secretsync and boxcryptor. Truecrypt doesn’t work well with Sugarsync because Sugarsync relies on the file’s timestamp to recognize change, so the truecrypt volume isn’t synced until it is dismounted. But the other two are seamless and work in real time, and unlike truecrypt have dynamically-sized containers. You can find my review and instructions here:

  6. Paul B. said on July 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    I found sugarsync to offer the most robust local client, and 5 gb of free storage to boot. But I encrypt my data automatically before it leaves my machine.

  7. Seban said on July 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    My cell phone cost ~20€ and I just have a laptop, no desktop anymore, so I only use the cloud to backup some files I would not want to lose.
    I use dropbox, because it doesn’t update the whole truecrypt container after a new backup process.
    Besides that, I too use local storage to backup my hdd.

  8. marius said on July 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I’ll stick to local storage thank you!

  9. miaousse said on July 23, 2012 at 10:26 am


    I use Hubic (25 Go for free , unlimited for 69 euros per year). It’s provided by the biggest french hoster. The big issue is that no sync is provided for now (feature coming). OVH says that no info is given to govs.

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