The Cloud Pros and Cons

Cloud Computing I don’t know that much about technology or the internet. But the Skinny Professor has been talking about the “cloud” for about a year now, and Microsoft is advertising “to the cloud”, so I’d better investigate.

The cloud is essentially many computers networked together to allow distributed storage and processing of data. Doesn’t sound very sexy when I put it that way.

The cloud has great potential. For example, I use DropBox, which provides document storage in the cloud. Anywhere I have access to the internet, I have access to my files. It’s free up to 2GB of storage.  Sounds a lot like Google Docs, right?

Well there is one big difference. Google retains the right to display, post, adapt, modify or translate anything you post to Google services. It also retains the right to make the content available to other organizations for the provision of syndicated services.  Yup, just check out Google’s terms of service.  While you maintain the copyright to your works, you have essentially given Google the license to publish your material as it sees fit. Quora, one of the social media question and answer websites, and Twitter have a similar license agreement in their terms of service.

I checked the Dropbox terms of service. As I interpret them (and remember, I’m not a lawyer), I retain my copyright to my own material and there is no license of my material to DropBox.

(Important Note: As of July 6, 2011, Dropbox has changed its terms of service.  “These Terms do not grant us any rights to your stuff or intellectual property except for the limited rights that are needed to run the Services, as explained below.”  As I understand it, this means, while they have a perpetual license to the material, it is limited, in that they cannot use your material in any way, other than for managing the service that they provide.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the power and convenience of the cloud. And I continue to use cloud based services. But I advise you to be very careful. Read the terms of service for each provider.  For example, if you are using Google docs to develop business plans, or new product launches or any other collaborative effort that requires confidentiality, or intellectual property protection, I’d suggest that you stop right now. Any writing you are currently working on, if sitting in Google Docs, is perpetually licensed to Google and may be used without your permission.

You need to think about your purpose when you use a particular cloud computing service, rather than just jump in with both feet. It may not matter that these companies are licensing the rights to your random musings, to tweets or to the answers to simple questions but if you plan to write a book, or develop an income stream based on your intellectual property, it’s best to be safe, rather than sorry.


10 replies »

  1. Interesting ‘legal’ thoughts on the cloud. I use the cloud for my email and CRM service. Why? The biggest advantage for me is I travel frequently so the syncing between my laptop and office desktop computers is seamless and instantaneous.

    My biggest ‘cloud’ fear is a major disruption to service. How would we work?

  2. CRM, storage, sync, share – all of those services you use via cloud computing. It’s easy, it’s sometimes free but I agree with you Colleen – that we should read ‘terms of service’. If the content I am uploading on cloud is something NOT that important to me – I don’t care…but if the content is important, etc. I should make sure where I share or storage it.
    In my opinion, we are approaching the new level: content management. Few years ago it was ‘wild west’ and now it’s time to take care of the content.

  3. Julie may want to review Dropbox’s licensing policy. This is from their latest update:
    [Update – 7/2] – We asked for your feedback and we’ve been listening. As a result, we’ve clarified our language on licensing:
    You retain ownership to your stuff. You are also solely responsible for your conduct, the content of your files and folders, and your communications with others while using the Services.
    We sometimes need your permission to do what you ask us to do with your stuff (for example, hosting, making public, or sharing your files). By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. This license is solely to enable us to technically administer, display, and operate the Services. You must ensure you have the rights you need to grant us that permission.

  4. What you may find interesting is that this very blog is likely being server from a cloud server. My wife and I own a small online marketing company, we design build and host our customer’s websites in WordPress on our servers. We use Rackspace cloud servers to host all of our sites and it works extremely well. It’s higher performance, more reliable and a lot easier to manage. I know this is different in terms of the specific service being provided by Apple, Microsoft and the like, but it’s not that much different. The fact is, cloud computing makes it a lot easier for us, a small company to compete with much larger companies. And, the cloud services offered by the big companies can do the same for any small to medium size business because you can quickly scale up as needed, pay for only what you use and now worry about disaster recovery.

  5. Your post made me for the first time read really the ‘terms of use” of Google – for my shame I had never did, so thanks and also your post for the cloud is nice!

  6. We usually disregard the “Terms of service” section in nearly anything, but you give a great case when it actually pays to take a look. Better be careful :).

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