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Take Woz Cloud Fears with a Grain of Salt

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's prediction this past weekend that cloud computing may cause "horrendous problems" has gone viral but with due respect to the visionary inventor of the Apple I and II PCs: take his fears with a grain of salt.

Wozniak raised his concerns during off the cuff remarks after performing in Mike Daisey's theatrical presentation The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which exposes the labor conditions at Foxconn, the key manufacturer of Apple products in China.

In response to a question from an audience member after the two-hour performance, Wozniak revealed he's concerned about the growing trend toward storing data in cloud based services, reported, a news service covering science and technology.

"I really worry about everything going to the cloud," Wozniak told the audience. "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years." Wozniak's remarks came following the performance, which took place at the Woolly Mammoth theater in Washington, D.C.

Sure there will be plenty of problems with cloud computing just as there are issues with all forms of computing. We're already seeing numerous outages that have raised serious concerns.

Wozniak appeared not only worried over the reliability of cloud services, but argued users risk giving up ownership of their data once they store it in the cloud. "With the cloud, you don't own anything," he said. "You already signed it away," referring to terms of service users agree to when signing on with some cloud. "I want to feel that I own things," he added.

It seems to me he was referring to social networks like Facebook and photo sharing services. Facebook raised concerns about data ownership when it changed its terms of service back in 2009, claiming it had rights to your data even after an account is terminated, a move that raised the ire of many critics. While social networks typically run in the cloud, and indeed consumers should be aware of the terms of using such services, that's where the similarities end.

Woz went on to say "a lot of people feel, 'oh, everything is really on my computer,' but I say the more we transfer everything onto the Web, onto the cloud, the less we're going to have control over it." To that point, it is indeed hard to argue that once data is in the cloud users have less control over it than if it is on their own premises but in many cases that gap is narrow. Giving up autonomous control is usually a tradeoff worth making for having data readily available and less subject to permanent loss.

Had Wozniak not chosen to use the word "horrendous" while suggesting the cloud would cause "horrible problems," his remarks probably would have gone unnoticed. But when someone of his stature predicts Armageddon it's inevitable it will spark debate.

Like any emerging technology, cloud computing will go through its fits and starts. But the cloud is not going away. Will Woz one day be able to say "I told you so?" I think not. What do you think?

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/07/2012 at 1:14 PM

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Aug 10, 2012 Iam_maI

He's not saying that the sky is falling or that it is a flash in the pan. I hear him saying it is not a panacea that some folks want it to be. That like any other solution it has its problems and those problems mean that while it is the correct solution to some problems it is precisely the wrong solution for others. If only I had the time to tell you about the IT Manager I know who thought we could just jam all our servers onto one server without upgrading anything by "doing that virtualization thing"... The IT manager had been told you could "save on hardware costs". True, but not the solution IT Man thought it was.

Thu, Aug 9, 2012

I was at Wozniak's talk. His point about the cloud was simply that cloud data storage sites have no liability for the damage that losing your data can cause for you, and he mentioned one friend who had a lost year's worth of everything stored at a cloud site with no recourse. You trust your stuff to the cloud, the cloud decides what happens to it, and it will never be foolproof. Wozniak said he maintains multiple backups on his own machines of everything that he cares about, which would be great advice for everybody except it kind of defeats the purpose of sending it all away to The Cloud.

Wed, Aug 8, 2012

Effective control of the masses is much easier when you know all their secrets.

Tue, Aug 7, 2012 James Nicholson Tennessee

What Woz may be saying without actually saying it is that, with the rapid intrusion of the US Government into areas that used to be considered private, the cloud scenario, especially if relinquishment of ownership is present, removes most Constitutional protections against your data being subject to complete analysis, for whatever reason, by the Government. Also, with the increasing sophistication of hackers, it is possible that accounts or even a complete service could be hacked and copied or mined. I find these scenarios extremely unsettling, and I, for one, will put as little in the cloud as possible!

Tue, Aug 7, 2012

I think your responses to Woz are simplistic. What you've said is generic and could be applied to anything. What he is suggesting is very real. Recent outages caused by failures within Amazon cloud services are a a good pointer to what we can expect in the future. As we become dependant on services and sites that use these huge "clouds" the potential impact on our lives escalates when a "cloud" goes down, is hacked, or has millions of it's users passwords released online. To suggest that sites such as Facebook are not in the cloud is ludicrous. If, when you post, upload an image or share a link on facebook, where, if not a "cloud" do you suggest all that data is going? Remember that a fair percentage of the sites such as Netflix, Instagram, Electronista, etc are using clouds behind the scenes to store all their data. Sure, question what Woz has said, but to go so far as to suggest his warning should be ignored is tantamount to sticking your head in a bucket of sand.

Tue, Aug 7, 2012

Woz is right. You completely give up physical ownership and control when moving to the "cloud". As for "readily available" and "less subject to permanent loss", does anyone remember what happened in a couple of foreign countries last year when Internet access was cut off by the government? Sadly, the reality that it could happen here in the US is becoming a greater possibilty. To look at this from any other perspective is to look at it with blinders on and covering your eyes.

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