The Newshour with Jim Lehrer last night did a story on cloud computing that was rather comical at times — “You mean other people can see that spreadsheet?” — but laid out the basic issues well enough. However, the show was extremely Google-centric: its primary example of “living in the cloud” was a woman who keeps track of her family’s life via Google apps — a woman who just happens to be a Google employee who (apparently) works on Google docs. And a lot of the segment was built around an interview with Eric Schmidt, who encourages us all to “trust the professionals” to back up our data and keep it safe.
But which professionals? See, there are many clouds out there, and it’s not clear that they’re all equally safe, equally reliable, equally honest. Now, you may not plan to out anything in the cloud if you can help it — but if you do, then who do you trust? Google has a ton of my information because I use Gmail; but, though I have fooled around with Google Calendar and other Google services, I do a good deal of my life-organizing with Backpack. So who is more trustworthy, Google — one of the most powerful corporations in the world, who gives me their services for free but mines my account for data — or 37signals, a small company who charges me a fee for their services but promises not to use or share my data?
Many factors need to be considered when answering this question. There’s the issue of diversification: Would I do well to prevent one company from controlling all my data? And I haven't even mentioned the difficulties that can arise when you’re trying to export your data or otherwise pry it from the cloud’s clutches. But though I’ve thought about these matters a lot, I don't think I understand them very well. This is all too new.