Why should we trust Google Drive, or any cloud storage service?

Google Drive seems nice, if a bit convoluted in a typical Googley way. It’s great that Google is now giving everyone 5 free gigabytes of online storage, with up to 16 terabytes offered, assuming you can afford an $800 monthly bill. (If you need 16TB, we’re guessing that your music collection is formatted to Neil Young’s liking.) There are likely many fun uses for this new cloud storage program, but if you think that now is the time to start using cloud storage services to house the majority of your private data, you may want to think again. The dream of being able to store a majority of your files online is close to being a simple, affordable comfort for everyone. But there’s a catch! None of your data is safe.

None of these services guarantee the protection of any files you upload, and there are no promises that these services won’t freely share your files and information with the government or other companies (here are 800+ companies that are aligned with CISPA). In fact, thanks to efforts by some backward minds in the entertainment industry and some ill-informed government officials, companies like Google are already being pressured to spy on the files you upload to see if any of them look like they’re “illegal.” Yes, it is definitely easier for copyright hounds and the government to access your files if they’re hosted on the Net by a company, but that doesn’t make it right. 

No protection from deletion or loss

A few months ago, after the US Gov’t raided and shut down MegaUpload, it told all users of the service that they were basically shit out of luck. The Department of Justice said that because of a clause in MegaUpload’s Terms of Service, it didn’t have to give users back their data and that they should have known better. What a grand justification… 

Since MegaUpload was taken down, no users could access or get to their uploaded material, legal or not. This data is still frozen, but could be deleted at any time.

Our own Andrew Couts dug into this issue a few months back and discovered that nearly all major cloud storage services refuse to guarantee the safety of any data uploaded to their servers. Dropbox, Box, RapidShare, Google Drive, Amazon Cloud Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive… not one of them will guarantee the safety of your data. 

Here’s an excerpt from Microsoft’s particularly blunt SkyDrive terms of service: 

You’re responsible for backing up the data that you store on the service. If your service is suspended or canceled, we may permanently delete your data from our servers. We have no obligation to return data to you after the service is suspended or canceled. If data is stored with an expiration date, we may also delete the data as of that date. Data that is deleted may be irretrievable.

Until a company is willing to guarantee the safety of your personal data, it is not wise to upload anything of importance to it. Microsoft could, and might, cancel or suspend your account for any reason. Cloud backup service Carbonite is a bit more secure, mostly guaranteeing safety unless you share your password or do something dumb. Still, even it “cannot guarantee complete security.” But at least it doesn’t give itself such broad loopholes.

No protection from spying or termination

If having your data deleted or inaccessible is bad, how would you like all of your private documents scanned and searched through? Sound fun? Well, it’s probably already happening. TorrentFreak leaked a supposed internal manifesto for cloud hosting service RapidShare shows that it may terminate user accounts just on the suspicion that they might be breaking someone’s copyright. 

“Services should terminate account holders or subscribers not merelyupon proof that they are infringers but when sufficient copyright holders have calledtheir conduct into question. In such cases, services deserve an explanation from the users as to why the suspicions are unfounded.”

Basically, everyone who uploads content to RapidShare is now guilty until proven innocent. Your Google Drive account may not be any safer, either. 

Thanks to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), a poorly thought through law that passed way back in 1998, and other malignant efforts by the entertainment industry (RIAA, MPAA), we now seem to be inching toward a world where cloud hosting services like Google and RapidShare will be forced (or can, without repercussion) spy on what you upload to their services and report your private activity to others. But if you think it’s bad now, it could get worse.

No protection from CISPA

CISPA

Here is where CISPA comes in. CISPA stands for the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011.” It’s potentially one of the most dangerous laws in a long time, yet has the support of Google and 800+ other companies, many of which should know better. Why? Because it’s being marketed with the guise of protecting national “cybersecurity.” It basically gives companies a green light to sift through everything you upload for anything that the might be “dangerous,” and share that information with the US government.

You might think: “Well, I’m not doing anything dangerous, so who cares.” I believe you, and CISPA may have been written with good intentions, but its language is so broad that it could, and likely will, be abused down the road, much like the DMCA has been used in countless horrible ways it was never intended to be used.

Why you’d be wrong: What if the government mandated that Microsoft share everything you do on your computer with it, just so it could scan to see if you’re doing anything dangerous? Is that okay? What if it installed cameras in your home so that it could watch to make sure you don’t smoke a joint or do anything wrong? Would it be okay if a government agent watched you 24 hours a day? These are ridiculous and over-reaching examples, but just because our computer and online activity is digital, doesn’t mean we should lose all rights to privacy. What if the government makes a mistake when analyzing your activity online and deems you a threat? Our constitution guarantees that we are innocent until proven guilty. By spying on more and more of our activity, whether it be online or off, we are losing our right to privacy.

Patriot Act CartoonIn the aftermath of the Patriot Act — which gave the US gov’t the ability to wiretap citizens or detain them without court order, assuming it deemed them a threat to national security — a number of innocent people were hounded, or detained, by the FBI or CIA. In the last 10 years, the law has even been extended to be used against people who have “no links to terrorism or espionage,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s recent report on it.  

The hope for a cloud connected world

The Internet is one of the greatest advancements in human history, but we seem to be entering a big period of testing. For the first time, its becoming possible for us to use Web and Internet services for almost all of our needs. This is fantastic, but our added connections and use of the Net now looks a lot like a honeypot to entrenched entertainment companies who don’t want their business models to change and our government, which is now finding it so easy to access so much more information than it ever dreamed possible just a decade or two ago. Until Congress begins to get a clue (the House votes on CISPA soon), we’re going to have to continue using the Net quite cautiously. 

Google Drive is a wonderful step forward in cloud computing, but I wouldn’t put anything of value on it. Not until Google grows a backbone and Congress gets a clue. If you want to help defend the future of services like these, we recommend that you participate to help stop CISPA now. After that, we’ll talk.

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