In today’s cloud you need a local backup

stormclouds2 Over an early-morning cup of coffee, I read an op-ed piece in the the New York Times by Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (a book I read last year).

Zittrain’s op-ed is thought-provoking as it discusses a range of issues that are very much in the news at the moment, from the theft of Twitter documents from their locations in the cloud to Amazon remote-deleting e-books directly from people’s Kindles.

In focusing on the Twitter case in particular, Zittrain echoes what just about every reporter, commentator and pundit has been saying – the major issue concerns security of access to your content when its ‘out there’ in the cloud.

[…] Data stored online has less privacy protection both in practice and under the law. A hacker recently guessed the password to the personal e-mail account of a Twitter employee, and was thus able to extract the employee’s Google password. That in turn compromised a trove of Twitter’s corporate documents stored too conveniently in the cloud. Before, the bad guys usually needed to get their hands on people’s computers to see their secrets; in today’s cloud all you need is a password.

The bold text in the last sentence is my emphasis.

But is that really all you need?

In commenting on the Amazon Kindle kerfuffle, one thing the FT’s Richard Waters says especially caught my eye:

With no local storage, nothing can ever be owned, only rented.

No, what you need is a copy of everything, a backup, away from the cloud. At least, until you can trust anyone whose service you use for storing or sharing things that are important to you.

And even then, I’d want a copy of everything.

Meanwhile, make sure you have a strong password for the cloud.

[Photo by Chad Johnson, used under his CC license.]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. gary golembroski

    I do understand and I keep local copies of all my data and back it up religiously.
    But, is there a way to ‘back up’ your Gmail?

    • neville

      Well, what I do with Gmail is bring all emails into Outlook via POP3 (IMAP is another choice) which is stored in a local PST file. I do that for convenience primarily, but of course it’s also a backup, both received email as well as email I send from the account.

      What if you don’t use Outlook? Check out this post on Lifehacker re Gmail Backup.

  2. Tom Basham

    To an extent I guess you need to decide why you’re using cloud services and base a compromise of privacy/security and access on that.

    If you’re using the cloud for cost reasons then you might be happy to investigate using something like certificate based security to filter access to computers owned by (and containing a cert from) your organisation.

    If you’re using it because it’s available from anywhere on any computer etc. then you might need more traditional two-factor authentication systems.

    Either way, it would seem to me that the Twitter case highlights a need for better authentication systems on cloud services.

    • neville

      A good point, Tom, re deciding why to use cloud services. You’d think everyone would do that, wouldn’t you? Maybe the whole thing needs to be explained more clearly.

      Trouble is, there don’t seem to be any guides out there that explain cloud computing in ways non-geeks can understand. You know of any?

  3. Bernie Goldbach

    I have been well served by Mozy Home Backup. It came bundled with a pocket terabyte drive a few months ago. You could map its off-peak jobs to backing up all your Outlook as an encrypted file if you needed that kind of capability.

  4. Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with 'sketch')

    Great post, Neville. Would you be interested it using it as a guest post on my backup blog? There are more issues with online backup than just that of “rented content,” but the deleted Kindle books do highlight something few people think about.

  5. Steve Pinches

    Couldn’t agree more. I did see quite a cool app a while ago which allowed you to back up your files on a nominated friend’s computer – then at least if the whole thing goes pear-shaped you can at least go and beat him round the head personally. It’s called Crashplan: I think there are others too.

  6. Is Online Backup Bad for the Environment? | FileSlingerâ„¢ Backup Blog

    […] But in spite of the bandwidth bottleneck in getting our data into the cloud, more and more of us are either storing our documents and photos online or creating them there in the first place. It’s not just the online backup services, but the photo sharing sites (the Ur-Guru likes Flickr, whereas my mother prefers Picasa), the social networks, the blogs, and the file sharing and collaboration tools like Google Docs,, and Huddle Workspaces. And then there are all those Kindle books hanging out on Amazon’s Whispernet servers waiting to be downloaded—and maybe sucked back up again when Amazon finds out it’s made a mistake. (That last episode points out another problem with online storage: if your only copy of the data lives on someone else’s server, is it really yours?) […]

  7. Sallie Goetsch (rhymes with 'sketch')

    I gave you a hat tip in this week’s post about some of the *other* potential problems with cloud computing ( What I’d suggest is a post that starts with what you have here and elaborates a bit by describing what cloud services you use and what local backups you have. Readers are always interested in knowing what other real people (non-geeks) are doing for backup.

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