Friday, July 06, 2007

Online Storage Safe Isn't Safe

Online storage has been around for a while. It's the idea that you can put your digital stuff online and access it anywhere. It's a great way to transfer files or to keep a backup of things you don't want to lose. In addition to the sites which will store any filetype, dedicated sites exist to store photo, video, music, and text documents.

We've gotten so used to things being online that some people have put almost all their documents online. I have plenty of pictures and videos stored there and am increasing the percentage of these things that I store there. These services are making it easier and easier to store things online. Youtube even has a feature called Quick Capture that takes video directly from a webcam to the online service without storing it anywhere on your computer first. Eye-Fi is a product that can send photos direct from your camera to many photo sites.

However, this can become a problem if people keep their ONLY copies of documents and media online. This morning, Flickr was inaccessable for me -- I'm not sure if the site was down or if it was a localized issue (update: Yahoo! was down for a while). I was just trying to put up my latest photoblog entry, so it was not a big deal. But imagine if I'd been scheduled to make a presentation and stored my only copy on a site that was down. I've seen similar things happen to presenters, it's not pretty.

I'm able to get to Flickr now, and the presenters were eventually able to work through their technical glitches. But what if the storage site lost all that data? Most of them have clauses in the agreement you have to click through that indemnifies them in case of a loss of this kind. Losing data is more common on the Internet than many people realize, especially with beta services. Big companies are no less susceptible to this than the small startups.

There are also privacy issues with these services. If you post your company's financial reports to Google Docs, your CFO will probably be pretty upset with you. If you accidentally upload very personal photos to one of the photo sharing sites, it may stay there forever. If a prospective employer does a Google search and comes across a video of you in a manner not befitting their standards, they can refuse to hire you. These things are not far fetched, similar things have all happened.

Online media and file storage services are great for convenience and sharing. But you should keep in mind that they are just as susceptible to failure as anything else. And they are just as, in not more, accessible than public records. That goes for any information you might post on the Internet. So keep that in mind when you post the video of yourself drinking tequila with Paris Hilton and link it from your MySpace page. And make sure you've got a backup of anything important you keep online.

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