Tread carefully with cloud storage services
Decades ago, most small savers kept their money under the mattress, in a cookie jar or hidden on their property. All over New England, metal detectors are being used to find stashes of saved coins in trees, old barn foundations or secret vaults in open fields.Slowly, over time, the safety of banks was promoted as a better place for your hard-earned extra cash, and people opened savings accounts. Before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed the safety of your money, the size and robust qualities of the steel bank vault were your only safeguard that your stash would be safe.Banks used that money to build businesses, finance house loans and capitalize towns and cities. Without all those millions of people’s personal savings, America could never have become the super economy it is today.When the FDIC was formed after the terrible run on the banks during the Great Depression, banks became 100 percent safe for the small depositor. And what did you get from these safe banks? Interest, service, loans and security.But all that transition from under your mattress to a bank took time, confidence and courage on your part and a carefully planned business on behalf of the banks. Initially, especially after the FDIC, banks were friendly institutions — your trusted partners in life. Then they began to abuse the privilege. That trend may be about to repeat itself in the Internet age and bears watching, both for your money and a new development about to impact every single living American (and most of the world): Cloud computing.Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo and other major Internet players are offering free (or almost free) cloud storage. For those of you who do not know what cloud computing is, it is simple. You put all of your files, data and personally saved information into the care of a large “safe” corporation that makes it available to you when you need it. How do you get access to it? Via the Internet, Wi-Fi, LAN, 3G or 4G connections.What is the advantage to you? You are promised they will never lose anything and your possessions will be kept safe in their vault (server). All those photos, family letters, documents, bills, bank statements, credit card statements, mortgage papers, car documents, everything you have can be placed there to be held, safely, forever.Now, ask yourself, why would they offer these services for free? Look back at the old deposit banks, which kept your money in their safe (while they used it). They did not charge you. They gave you a passbook so you could see how much money you had, and you could rely on it being available.You could even earn a little interest while they held onto your money.Now the big Internet players are doing the same thing with all of your data. Instead of interest, they are offering safety for your data and the ability to access it from numerous platforms, such as computers, iPhones and Android devices. In short, they are acting like your data storage deposit, and they even give you a password and an email update on what they are storing for you — just like the old bank passbook.But here is the difference: They can mine your data, building algorithms that teach them trends, show demographic strategies for their businesses and better target you and people like you as customers. When Microsoft and others announce the free Office suites, resident only on the cloud, there may be advertising attached, but what they are really after is the data and user profile you will input with each email, each Internet purchase receipt, each bank statement reviewed and the history of each site you visit. In short, they’re after each and every endeavor you embark upon via the Internet.The days of the new big cloud data banks are upon us. Since we have no federal watchdogs here yet — no FDIC to protect us — we need to tread carefully. Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.