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The Cloud

The Cloud. We’ve all heard about it, right? The supercalifragilisticexpialidocious “cloud” that purports itself to be the savior for all things IT. Well, I’ve got some news for you:

So it was really no surprise when reports started surfacing this week that people were getting locked-out of Google Docs (archive 1, archive 2) for mysterious “Terms of Service violations”.

“Por quoi?” you might ask? (If you were French).

So it seems that Google, the Internet’s Benevolent Dictator, had inadvertently decided that a small number of users of its Google Docs service were creating documents which violated The GOOG‘s Terms of Service.

Turns out (and we really should have all known this) that Google is scanning everything you type. Presumably looking for users’ hell-bent on joining Daesh, or people trafficking in child porn or other illegal material.

Google says it was a bug. An error in their automated scanning looking for Terms of Service violations, but this has been — if anything — a wake up call, and if you weren’t surprised (or even alarmed) at this, then you not only haven’t been paying attention, but you don’t apparently value your privacy.

Facebook and You: If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer. You’re the product being sold.

Google, as we know, is an advertising Company. So they can help target ads to you they want to know as much about you has they possibly can. By offering a free online suite of office apps, they can learn an awful lot about their users. Think about it: resumes, diaries, journals, legal documents, research papers, books being written, and much much more.

Think Google’s not scanning what you create or upload? Of course they are. Think they’re not cataloging what you create? Then why do they care about what you create and if any of it violates their Terms of Service?

This phenomena is not unique to Google. Facebook is doing it with every post you create, and every image you post. The recent Napalm Girl (archive 1, archive 2) incident made international headlines when Facebook decided to censor an image posted by Norwegian newspaper “Aftenposten” posted the iconic image along with its story and it was flagged (and removed) by Facebook’s censors.

Posting somebody’s phone number will get your account suspended on Twitter (archive 1, archive 2). But ironically, threatening nuclear war against a nation won’t (archive 1, archive 2).

So what can you do if you don’t want your documents, or your thoughts to be Googled or indexed and cataloged? Your best option is to host the documents yourself, or pay for a service from a Company who’s primary business isn’t advertising.

Recommendation 0: Don’t store your shit in The Cloud

The best recommendation of them all? Don’t store anything in “The Cloud” that you wouldn’t be comfortable being plastered on the bulletin board at your work, apartment, or church. This includes don’t have your Documents folder “backed up to Dropbox” or sync’d to OneDrive either.

There’s a concept in Information Security called “your perimeter”. This refers to the physical and electronic walls that surround and guard your data. For home users, this is your PC. But once your data leaves your PC like if you uploaded your document “to the cloud”, then you’ve lost control over the data, and can’t guarantee that it won’t inadvertently get leaked, or be stolen, or destroyed.

Therefore, the single best option (above everything else) is not to store your shit in The Cloud. Full stop.

Recommendation 1: NextCloud

But if not storing your documents in The Cloud is not an option, there are alternatives! NextCloud is an open-source web application that’s super-easy to install. All it requires is a web server to get started, and it can even be installed on the $35 RaspberryPi! More complex installations (or if you want to grant your family, friends, and coworkers the ability to share and edit your documents) will require a domain ($8/ yr) and web hosting ($5/ mo).

NextCloud has apps for your iPad, iPhone, and Android, and clients to sync your data to your “private cloud” for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Best of all, you can link your server with others and share and collaborate on your documents securely, and without having to worry about Big Brother spying on what you’re doing.

Recommendation 2: Pay for It

Look, it’s simple. If you’re paying for a service, then the Company offering that service would be less incentivized to trying to make money off what you’re storing with them since they already have a revenue stream.

This could be paying for a Microsoft Office365 subscription, or Zoho, or even Collabora.

Apple’s iWork is another option.

In another post I’ll tackle the problems and pitfalls with sites like Facebook and Instagram for sharing your photos and videos, and introduce you to some alternatives without losing the connection to your friends and family both Facebook and Instagram provide.

If you have a question about privacy or security, feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Published in Privacy


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