More than 50 million people use Dropbox to upload more than one billion files every 48 hours, as stated on Dropbox’s website. According to Apple, more than 100 million people use iCloud.
With the advent of Google Drive and Facebook group file sharing, users have even more options for making their files available anywhere. Even those who have never used these services use the cloud, with every downloaded song or shared picture on Amazon, iTunes or social networks.
Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla, said in a TED talk that the more we use the Internet, the more we sacrifice our privacy. Although these cloud services can benefit our lives through the portability and convenience they offer, it comes at a price.
“Just as the Internet has opened up the world for each and every one of us, it has opened each and every one of us to the world,” Kovacs said. “Increasingly, the price we’re being asked to pay for all of this connective-ness is our privacy.”
Elizabeth Miller, from Dallas, is a brand manager at Simple [A], which helps companies with online content management and strategy. She uses Dropbox for personal storage and said it’s changing how she does things in an unexpected way.
“I am often concerned about the safety of my documents,” she said. “Given what just happened with LinkedIn…I find myself doubting seriously whether or not the safety of my documents can be guaranteed by any company or service other than myself.”
LinkedIn’s confirmed security breach on June 7 compromised more than 6.5 million accounts, and the company advised all members to change their passwords. While many saw this as a blow to the professional social network, for people like Miller, it raised additional issues of security on cloud-based platforms.
Miller said she only puts documents on Dropbox that she has to access from other places, keeping her personal pictures, files and other data on a hard drive she carries around with her.
“I don’t think portability is worth giving up my privacy,” Miller said. “Files are still portable on backup hard drives. And while it’s debatable how much privacy I actually have left, I do intend to protect what little there is.”
Randy Thio, owner of Ideabloke in Beaverton, Ore., takes a different approach. He works with companies to implement social media and branding strategies and uses various cloud services so he can switch to different projects and platforms quickly throughout the day. He said he does not worry about people having access to what he puts online.
“Privacy will always be a concern, whether on the cloud or not,” Thio said. “True, the cloud is a little further removed compared to your hard drive or server, but nothing’s fool proof. … The trade off for me weighed more in favor of having the convenience and efficiency.”
Steve Case, a Tacoma, Wash., native and engineer at Dell, uses the cloud for both work and personal projects and said the convenience also outweighed privacy concerns for him. Since cloud services don’t require him to install anything, he can access his projects from anywhere.
“It’s great for collaboration,” Case said. “It takes it to the next level.”
Case said he often uses the cloud to take notes, reducing the amount of sending files back and forth. Although he said there are privacy concerns, raised especially by recent incidents like LinkedIn’s security breach, he is more concerned with other individuals intruding on his privacy, not the services themselves. Case said he recommends using strong passwords that are different for every site, and only using trusted services.
“Everything has risks, and you weigh those risks,” he said. “There is no perfectly safe place.”
The cloud really come down to convenience against privacy, said Robert Caruso, owner of BundlePost — a social content management system. Caruso, who lives in Portland, said the amount of portability cloud services give to users is huge, but can come at a big price. He said users should consider what they’re getting for the service, and read privacy policies. Certain cloud services like Google Drive own everything that users upload.
“There are places where (privacy) can be sacrificed,” Caruso said. “But you don’t own anything you put on (Google.) They do.”
The portability of cloud services aren’t used just by professionals; many students are finding the convenience to be paramount in school projects and assignments.
Robbie Meyer is a BYU information systems major from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He uses Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive to collaborate with classmates on a variety of projects and said instead of meeting several times throughout the semester, groups can meet once or twice and then share information and updates through the cloud.
“What it really comes down to is convenience,” Meyer said. “It really makes team efforts and collaboration easier.”
Meyers said he isn’t afraid of putting his term papers and school projects online, but more sensitive documents, including business files, have no place on the cloud.
“Don’t put stuff out there that you don’t want people to see … or steal,” he said.
Amid all the privacy concerns, Meyers said the future is in the cloud. Many are already moving away from tangible items such as DVDs and going to downloads. Users will have to find a way to protect their privacy as they embrace this new technology.
“It’s literally going to immerse our lives,” he said. “I think we’re very quickly going to become a cloud community. … Our society is definitely heading towards the cloud.”