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You may not want your data in the cloud - but they do

One might notice a trend with cloud storage providers like Dropbox, Google Drive and Onedrive, toward storing files entirely in the cloud and only downloading them to the computer when necessary. This is in some ways useful, particularly in terms of large company-wide file collections, where only a handful of files are really useful for a given computer. However it is also part of a worrying trend toward outside ownership of files. Look at it this way: if all of your files are stored in the cloud, and the cloud provider changes it's terms of service, or you can't pay the bill, or something happens that prevents you from connecting to them - at that point, how do you go about accessing your files? In reality, the cloud provider owns your data and you're paying for access to it.

This is of course the way cloud providers want things to go; if they had it their way, we'd all be running what're known as 'thin clients': bare-minimum computers with low storage capacity, designed to primarily access data online. This would mean that they'd have complete control over our data and how much we pay for access to it. Luckily to date there has been enough push-back from consumers who're not interested in this, that it hasn't manifested that way just yet. But every version of Windows pushes this ownership agenda further; Windows 11 disallows creation of so-called 'local accounts', login accounts which aren't linked to your email address, and which Microsoft can't use to track you and matching usage data against your profile.

You might think you own the rights to privacy of what you do on your computer, but each version of Windows, Apple's iOS and MacOS, and Android, pushes terms and conditions which sign away more rights. Even printer manufacturers are getting in on this act. Most printer software now comes with what is variously called 'customer experience' or 'active improvement' programs where you sign away some rights to the privacy of what you do with your computer or your printer. I've even seen this stuff on Smart TV's. For now, you have the ability to opt-out of these 'features'. In the future you might not, if current trends are any indication.

Some of what this 'telemetry' (as it's called) provides, is good - it tells manufacturers how customers are using their products, and in the best case can inform them as to where and how users are getting 'stuck'. But it can also be used to gather information about a user that can be on-sold to third parties. In the world of tomorrow, you may not be the one who calls the shots about your privacy rights - the corporations already have enough sway that people will happily give away their rights in return for ease of use and familiarity. And we are now reaching a tipping point where corps like Microsoft are not even giving an opt-out, which gives them unprecedented access to psychological data that can be used to target you by marketers.

How can you fight back? Well, sending a friendly message to the body corporates that you're uncomfortable with this behaviour doesn't hurt. Disallowing the installation of 'customer experience' programs and the like helps. Turning off telemetry in Windows and MacOS helps. But the most positive thing you can do is scale back your use of cloud storage, by replacing it with either network drives or external drive backups. Obviously if you're running a business with multiple users in many locations this is not possible, but where you can do it, it removes some of the financial incentive for these businesses to push the cloud-centric way of operating into the future.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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