Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Not Floating in Space

Debra Jane Appelby’s on a mission to take the mystery out of technical buzzwords. First up, where’s this cloud we keep hearing about?

I’m sure by now you have heard of “the cloud’, the latest in a long history of tech buzzwords just meaningless enough to confuse the heck out of everybody.  But, for those outside the tech-savvy clique, just what is this mysterious cloud that seems to be hoovering up all your data?

At the most basic level, the cloud can be a euphemism for the wider internet. It’s where the stuff lives that is not on your computer hard drive or tablet or phone. Cloud storage solutions, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, are like having another hard drive in another office you connect to via the internet. Think of it like bunging your old junk and furniture into a 24-hour access storage bin in an industrial estate. The only difference being, you are left with a copy of it on your computer at home. The benefit being you can access that stuff whenever you need from whatever device you are on and share it with others.

Most of us have been using the cloud for years without even knowing it. If you have email from google or hotmail or Yahoo, all your email is stored in the ‘cloud’ until you pull it down and read it. With gmail, it’s still stored there when you archive it. If you have a Netflix subscription or use the BBC iPlayer, that’s the cloud. It’s like having a video recorder in a warehouse on an industrial estate.

Speaking of video recorders, when it comes to iTunes or Kindle or any other enabled service, the notion that your purchases are permanently stored in this seemingly ephemeral cloud versus being safely on your phone or computer is as vexxing as the old video recording problem.

Remember those endless conversations with an ageing parent about how you didn’t have to be watching a programme to tape it? Welcome to my conversations about the ‘cloud’.

“Why won’t it play?”

“Because it’s still only on the cloud you have to download it.”

“OK, I’ve tried that but my iPod is full.”

“Then delete something.”

“But what if Ii want to listen to it again?”

“It’s still in the cloud, you can get it again whenever you want.”

“So where’s the cloud?”

“It just means it’s on your account and you can download it when you want or, if it’s in iTunes, you can stream it.”

“Ah, OK, no, it’s still not there.”

“Because you are showing what’s on the device. Go into settings and pick ‘show all’.”

“Yes, I can see it now. Oh, but it won’t play, it’s greyed out.”

“Because it’s still only on the cloud you have to download it.”

Rinse and repeat.

All well and good, but why bother when you have the hard drive at home?

  1. It allows you to access files, photos, etc on any device, wherever you are so long as you have an internet connection.
  2. It’s a free backup. Everyone is always telling you to backup those files, especially those precious photos. Have them automatically upload from your phone camera to Dropbox and bingo instant off-site backup.
  3. It’s instantly expandable and usually free to get started. Dropbox gives you 2Gb and doesn’t count photos. Google drive gives you 15Gb!

So, how do you get it? With the stuff like email and Netflix you already have it. Buy something digital from Google, iTunes or Amazon and they keep a cloud copy for you so you already have it. If you want the file storage side and you have a hotmail or gmail email address then you already have a chunk of Microsoft onedrive or Google Drive for free. Just go to their web pages and follow the instructions to get your stuff in there. Dropbox just requires an email address to sign up for the free plan.

If you love it so much you need more space in whichever service, they all offer subscription plans for higher levels of storage.

But is the cloud secure? The short answer is… Yes! Unfortunately, the long answer is … No!

The number one cloud service everybody uses is email. Is email secure? Yes and no.  There have been email hacks, credit card scams and you still get tons of spam asking you to increase your mortgage or decrease your penis size (or is it the other way around).

Major companies like Target, Best Buy and Sony have had their credit card databases hacked and they’re not stored in the cloud.

So, it all comes down to trust and a little bit of common sense. Sites like Amazon and Dropbox rely on their security to be a major part of their business plan. As Dropbox’s whole reason for existing is to store your data in the cloud, they take cloud security pretty seriously.

“But what about all my nude photos I have stored in iCloud?” you ask. Unless you’re Jennifer Lawrence (if you are, hi Jennifer, call me), it’s unlikely you have anything to worry about. In that particular case it wasn’t even the cloud part that was hacked.

For the most part, the number one concern with the cloud is security and therefore it’s the number one priority for most cloud services. Nothing is ever completely secure as anyone who has handed in their bag at check-in only to arrive and found out it’s been sent to Venus can testify.

Don’t put all your digital eggs in one cloudy basket.

In conclusion, try not to think of ‘the cloud’ as ‘a thing’. Treat it like off-site backup you get to over the internet. Treat it like a library that has all the stuff you’ve bought from that online store. When you download a movie or song or audiobook it’s like checking it out. Deleting it from your phone or kindle is like taking it back to the library and you can do that if you need more space and re-download it anytime you want. With ubiquitous internet access, 3G, 4G, free wi-fi everywhere, “the cloud” is the way we will think of the internet more and more in the future.

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Written by Debra-Jane Appelby

Loud, Yorkshire, opinionated, techno-geek, trans-woman comedian with a fondness for excessive culinary pleasures and too little exercise.