Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Don't trust The Cloud

I don’t trust the cloud.
This responds to The Cloudy Skies Corporations Want to Sell You by Alfredo Lopez (
I could quibble with a few of Lopez' points, but by and large, I think he's right.
In practice, for ordinary users, 'the cloud' means sever farms operated by corporations.  Stuff on server farms owned by corporations is subject to the data mining of the corporate management.  It is subject to the vicissitudes of changes in corporate policy (particularly arbitrary, nay vicious, in the case of Facebook) and to corporate success or failure.  It is also subject to government scrutiny and data mining.  Since I am a friend on Facebook to Wikileaks, I assume I am at least on some “national security” checklist.  Of course, ISP's are also subject to government scrutiny.

The social media - Facebook, Twitter, blogs posted on corporate sites (like this one), websites posted on corporate sides, I treat as exposed and ephemeral.  If I have any reason to keep something I post on a corporate web site, I keep a duplicate on my computer.  I build my website on my computer, where it is backed up, and upload it to its web location so it is only exposed to search on my ISP.  Of course, that requires owning your own domain name
If I have any reason to keep something, I create private, I never let it off my computer, and it's not completely safe there.  It's subject to subpoena and to incidental capture in other physical searches of its location.
Many people use things like Google mail and Yahoo mail, where their email is stored on some corporation’s server farm.  I recommend not doing that.  I run on a Mac and use an IMAP ( account and Mac Mail.  That means my inbox; my sent box, my trash, and my junk are on the server of my ISP.  But I regularly drain any email that I think worth keeping onto boxes in Mac Mail on my machine.  There is similar software for windows.  Of course, anything that ever was on an ISP may have been copied and stored by some one else.
How do I back it up?  For day-to-day back up, I use an incremental backup program supplied by Apple called Time Machine.  Incremental backup means that any time a file is changed on my computer Time Machine automatically backs it up on a separate disk.   
Disks do fail.  For more archival purposes, every month or so I make a bootable clone of my computer’s disk on a separate disk.  A bootable clone means creating a separate disc that you could carry over to another computer, startup, and find your digital world there just as it was when you made the clone.  It sounds a little intimidating but the process is simple.  I use a utility called SuperDuper.  It takes about a dozen keystrokes and half an hour running in the background.  There are similar utilities for Windows.
Like the people in Oklahoma’s tornado belt, I live in a location of denial.  In the Bay Area we have the well-known San Andreas Fault, the source of the 1906 SF Earth quake, and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, and another fault, the Hayward fault, which is almost as active, runs about 100 yards from my house.  I have two bootable clone disks.  When I make a clone, I give it to my wife who works one day a week about 70 miles away, and she takes it to her office there and returns the other disk.  Thus I always have a fairly recent version of my complete digital universe, including things like email, webpages, blogs of any interest, stored separate from my house.

All this currently means owning 1 2-terabyte disk, 1 1-terabyte disk and 2 half-terabyte disks, but it seems to me worth it.

I've thought of using the cloud for tertiary backup, but it's too expensive and would take too long to upload.  My current disk contains about 400 GB of data.  The bulky parts of that are not text but photography and sound files.  I have about 100 GB of photographs.  What used to be called a CD collection is now about 140 GB of MP3 files, and I have about the same amount of audio books.  Backing up the text part of my data on the cloud might be practical, but I haven’t checked it out.

I left aside the whole issue of corporate data miners or government agencies tracking what you look at on the Internet.  Briefly, you can reduce tracking by not keeping cookies, and you can reduce it a great deal by elaborate use of intervening, secure sites. 

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