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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.