It seems to me that there is a growing trend of shifting everything online. By “everything” here I mean our personal computing. Why would you spend scarce gigabytes on your hard drive if you can keep all your email on gmail, all your documents in google docs, all your pictures in picasa, etc.? Having stuff online is not just practical in terms of saving space, but also in terms of access – your online storage can be accessed from anywhere, which is particularly convenient if you happen to use different computers at work, home, school, etc. At the same time, how much trust should we put in the third party company/s in order to keep all our information there (and i am not talking about privacy this time).
As Tarleton mentioned in his last lecture, we tend to pick on the big ones. So, it would not be surprising that I will refer here to Google, which I tend to both appreciate and examine with a critical eye. Usually, my concern with Google is about privacy and about the concentration of search services, however this time it is actually about reliability (and a little bit on consumer service :). Criticizing my skepticism, Leonichka once mentioned that he trusts Google until it does something to prove this wrong. Frankly, it was an important comment in my critical appreciation my thinking about Google. The only remaining question is what happens when this proving-wrong event actually takes place?
Last year I blogged about my not-so-pleasant encounter with gmail, when i was locked out of the email for about a week. Today I read a post by Danah Boyd about her friend’s encounter with Google. If you don’t have time/patience to read the original post, the story is simple. The guy has practically his entire life on Google (gmail, orkut, etc. – they do make great products!), but unfortunately, his account got hijacked (fishing) and soon deleted for spam abuse… (dramatic pause)… oops… (another dramatic pause)… Your work, your hobbies, your contacts, your communication – all is gone…
You do need to read more into Danah’s post to understand that it is not simple talking to Google and getting not-so-standard services from them. Eventually her friend got his data back, which raised another set of questions about “deleting” stuff from Google, but that is for another post.
I am left disturbed and puzzled after reading about this incident. On the one hand, here is a real scenario of potential lost or theft of your information stored online. That does not mean that the same thing cannot happen with the locally stored data. Maybe that is even more common. I, for example, lost some data recently while reinstalling my laptop, but it does not change the fact that the third party online solutions are not immune. On the other hand, it is important to mention the backup services that the online repositories and services provide. I think it is safe to assume that industrial backup processes are more professional compared to a self-performed backup at home. In turn, this aspect raises again questions of privacy and of what happens when you actually want to delete the data. Not to mention of course the horrible costumer service you have to face in order to get your data back (I hope one day they will understand that opening a new account is not always the ultimate solution).
So, here is a question – to shift or not to shift? Or to maintain both environments? And when it is enough evidence to start questioning company’s integrity? When it happens to 1000 random people, 10 people you know, or when it happens to you?