Trading Privacy for Convenience

Privacy by rpongsaj on Flickr

One of the current trends is the rise of cloud computing. Although the term is overhyped and lacking clear definition, the trend is that people are storing personal information at remote sites more than ever before. These remote sites are proprietary services operated by private companies. So why are people not concerned with leaving their precious private data in the hands of someone else? It turns out that people are trading privacy for convenience.

Consider the famous image site Flickr. People can easily upload all their photos to this site and store them there. And when the disk space on their computers runs out, they just remove them locally since they already have the pictures safely on Flickr. Now the family album, intimate pictures mind you, is stored somewhere, and it is not clear where in the world the disk with all these photos is located, or who has access to them or how the security is. Now I’m sure the folks at Flickr are fine and decent people just trying to run their business as well as they can, but this should actually sound scary.

There are three main drivers for the rise of the cloud as data store. First, online services are becoming better with more functionality and greater interactivity. Simply, they are easy to use. Many people like Flickr, YouTube, SlideShare, Prezi, Google Docs, Picasa and so on.

Second is the community. Other people are also using the service and sharing and interacting is easy. One rule that I have is to always think about the community. If you can find a “social” angle to the technology it is worth exploring. Usually this is where the trend goes. It is also the community that establishes trust. Everybody is using Flickr or YouTube or whatever – so I’m save.

Thirdly, people are using multiple devices. We have our home computer, then our laptop, possible a separate work computer and mobile phone. Now add netbooks and e-book readers. It is not practical to store anything important locally. It doesn’t work. It’s too limited.

Whatever the meaning of cloud computing the trend is clear. It is much more convenient to have a service available at all times to keep the content. The access is simple, easy and everywhere. My argument is that it is this convenience that people want, and they are willing to trade their privacy and security to someone else and store their stuff on a disk they have no idea where in the world is. It could be in Iceland, for you all know.