Are you in the cloud? Here’s a hint: if you can access it from anywhere, wirelessly sync across different devices, or share with another user via a web browser… then you’re in the cloud. This includes Facebook, GoogleDocs, Google-anything, Yahoo-anything, WordPress, Blogspot, Evernote, Twitter – the list goes on and on.
Convenience and “security” are key selling points for the cloud. Since quitting Facebook, I’ve had more time to learn about other web tools. I briefly signed up with Evernote, a cloud-based notetaking app that enabled me to access my notes from anywhere. I could start a note from my phone, and later on my PC I could pick up right where I left off — that easy. No saving or file transfer or anything. I could even grab links and bits of the web, attach pictures, and everything was arranged in a very user-friendly format. It was great, but then I started wondering: where, exactly, does all that information go? When Evernote autosaves, where does it save to?
I did some research, talked with an expert, and looked at the facts. Here’s what I found out:
Cloud-based apps save data to the web server. Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to delete (not just deactivate) a Facebook account? That’s because your Facebook page is stored on the Facebook web server indefinitely, whether you like it or not. When I type something in Evernote (or Producteev, or whatever), the app autosaves to the web server. If I have second thoughts and delete that info, I’m trusting the app to delete it from the server as well. But how would I even know? Anything you have ever sent, received, or stored on a cloud-based application most likely still exists somewhere in cyberspace, filed away on a web server.
The Cloud lacks privacy and safety. People love cloud-based apps because nothing gets lost. While this is a top selling point, it’s also a huge risk. Hackers have become increasingly sophisticated and organized, all while the rest of us grow more comfortable online and more willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves – leaving sensitive information on the web is no different from leaving your wallet and notebook on a busy train at rush hour. Maybe someone honest will find it and keep it safe. But maybe not. Anything stored in the cloud can also be subject to federal subpoena, even without your knowledge. This is fine if you write about celebrities or fashion. But what if you write investigative, hard-hitting, or politically controversial material? Should you trust the cloud with your notes, your thoughts, your location, and your sources?
While channel-surfing the other day, my husband and I finally decided on the 1993 movie “The Pelican Brief,” based on the book by John Grisham (which I’ve read several times). The premise is that a law student and a reporter work together to reveal a huge government cover-up related to the death of two Supreme Court justices. I’ve posted the trailer below. If you ever have a chance to watch the full movie, you’ll laugh at the low-tech research and reporting methods – pay phones (seen any of those lately?), library card catalog, VHS recordings, phone tapping. But even back then, investigate research and writing were risky.
Now there is even more risk.
So here’s the bottom line: writers, tread lightly on the cloud. It’s an amazing tool for publishing and networking, but not really safe for idea harvesting, data-storage, or notekeeping.
And yes, after only two days of use, I deleted my new Evernote account. (But is it really deleted? Or still out there somewhere? The world may never know.)