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How many people have noticed that many computer hardware manufacturers are using smaller and smaller local disk storage devices on their devices? And then only for caching local data to and from the remote servers in the cloud. While there is no doubt that there are cost benefits in lower power consumption, less heat, and faster boot-up times, there is also an adverse consequence which must be considered.

Microsoft, Apple and Google all have “cloud storage” capabilities which will take up the slack for really large storage requirements. And for me, it is not so much paying for accessing and storing your data, but a question of freedom.

One, the cloud vendor’s unilateral “click to accept” contract often provides that they have absolutely no liability for lost, corrupted or stolen information.

Two, the cloud vendor’s unilateral “click to accept” contract often provides that they have no liability should you not be able to access your data or access your data in a timely manner.

Three, the cloud vendor’s unilateral “click to accept” contract often provides  that they have the right to sift through your data; to provide you with targeted advertising in the case of so-called “free” services, ostensibly to provide you with a “richer user experience” – whatever that may mean – or to comply with some nebulous “legal process.”

Unfortunately, that legal process may be a demand for all of your data from a governmental agency – without any prior notification or a chance to challenge the validity of the administrative action, subpoena or court order.Or a private party demanding discovery in a bogus lawsuit.  Or even worse, demanding that the cloud vendor delete your data because some Hollywood-ruled agency thinks that your data may infringe their copyright. I say “may” because we have seen a number of wrongful infringement “take downs” of files and entire sites – for which there was no redress for the harm caused to the user for deleted or withheld data that they rightfully owned.

Encryption is not the entire answer …

Some of the more techno-savvy readers are saying you just have to encrypt the data; so let’s examine encryption.

First, there is communication link encryption using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or as it is now known TLS (Transport Layer Security) which provides an encrypted link between your computer and the server in the sky aka “the cloud.”

Second, many “in cloud” backup and storage systems claim that your data is stored on their servers in encrypted form – as well it should be. But the problem is that they own the key and can decrypt and browse your files at will.

Third, there is file encryption which allows one to encrypt their files using a third-party program before it is transmitted to the cloud over a secure link.

This is generally a good thing. But not if your hardware vendor controls the creation, storage and use of the encryption key or provides a “backdoor” to unknown parties wishing to peruse your data.

Believe me that I was more than upset to find that a medical device software package was uploading data – containing the device’s identification tag – to Microsoft using their WER (Windows Error Reporting) system. Again, ostensibly for product improvement.

I was also dismayed at the number of companies making “forensic” examination tools which could read your iPhone or computer data without physical contact and without any prior notification.

And it is not just vendors who are threats …

If you have commercially-viable research and development data on your systems or in the cloud, there are a number of known state-sponsored hacker groups wanting to steal your commercial advantage. Primarily China, Russia, Iran, and others.

We have recently seen commercial platforms hacked, user names and passwords exposed. But what of the criminals and others who silently steal data without the braggadocio of hackers. Who is going to compensate you for the lost revenue that is going to a Chinese knock-off company?

Because much of our data is protected only in the United States, we find that it may be used with impunity in foreign countries – and with a snowball’s chance in hell of using their legal system to seek redress.

The cocooning of platforms …

Microsoft, Apple, Google and others have a vested financial effort to close the Internet and to deny you the rich experience provided by open source software. By restricting third-party access to their hardware or software, they control your future. To the point where the pain of changing platforms and transitioning your data to new hardware or software is not worth the cost of giving them extra dollars for an upgrade. In my world, that is called a “lock-in.” Something practiced by every telephone company, cable provider and now hardware/software vendors.

Bottom line …

It’s bad enough that you might visit a website and accidently install a “snooper” program on your system. But the reason I am mentioning this now is that a raft of new, cool, gee-whiz applications and hardware is about to be unleashed on the public. And I want you to think of what you might be giving up – your freedom – to get a rather small benefit.

An example of this is Windows 8 – an upgrade that appears to place a tablet-oriented user interface on a desktop operating system in order to compete with the wildly popular Apple iPad. Or the new Apple systems which may unwittingly provide access to your data to intrusive third-party applications.

What you may not see implemented some newer hardware is something called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) which will replace the older BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) which controls boot-up activities and the hardware/software interface that runs your system. Under this UEFI the hardware vendor or operating system vendor can control every aspect of your machine, operating system and possibly the restrictions on applications software. An unprecedented amount of control over something you have purchased with your own money and which may easily turn into a doorstop if you attempt to run non-approved hardware or software.

In the final analysis, how much can you trust hardware and software vendors that are beholden to a government which, in turn, is beholden to the content creators which demand that you be held hostage so they can preserve their legacy business models and outrageous revenue streams? How much can you reply on vendors who are legally not responsible for their actions and who preclude the use of attorney-enriching class action lawsuits to seek redress. 

Unless you have a compelling reason – other than the ego satisfaction of having the latest “cool gimcrack – for purchasing new toys, you may wish to sit this development cycle out.

But the nice thing about technology – sometimes you find that you can do everything you want with a decades-old machine running free software.

The real bottom line – as patriots everywhere will tell you – freedom is never really free; it comes with a cost.

Protect yourself, your family and your data.

-- steve

“Nullius in verba.”-- take nobody's word for it!

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”-- George Bernard Shaw

“Progressive, liberal, Socialist, Marxist, Democratic Socialist -- they are all COMMUNISTS.”

“The key to fighting the craziness of the progressives is to hold them responsible for their actions, not their intentions.” – OCS

"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius

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