Cloud computing has digital downsides

The Sidekick phone.


Kai Ryssdal: If you're a T-Mobile customer, specifically a user of its popular Sidekick cell phones, the company's got some bad news for you. All those pictures and contact numbers and calendar dates, in fact, virtually all personal information from your phones that had been stored on a central computer operated by Microsoft, quote, "almost certainly has been lost." A lot of companies have been promoting the benefits of what's called cloud computing. It lets you access your data from anywhere you happen to be. But as our senior business correspondent Bob Moon explains, it's not without its downsides.

BOB MOON: I first heard about "cloud computing" early this year. CNET's Dylan McCullagh described it to me as the next big idea behind everything from Facebook, to TurboTax and Twitter.

DYLAN McCULLAGH: This is much, much more common for folks, say, in high school and college now. The folks who are keeping data on their computer will be a dwindling bunch over time.

Unless they have second thoughts, after what's happened to users of T-Mobile's Sidekick phones. Their data was stored by a unit of Microsoft called -- inauspiciously enough -- Danger.

Harry McCracken writes about technology trends at Technologizer.com. He says this raises big questions about trusting your data to outsiders.

HARRY McCRACKEN: People have kind of assumed that great big companies with lots of resources and lots of IT knowledge would be better at protecting our data than we can be ourselves. And this is really the first significant example that I can think of of just massive failure, where people would have been better off backing up their own information.

Marketers of the data-on-a-cloud concept were on the defensive today.

Reuven Cohen is founder of Enomaly, a Toronto-based, cloud-computing firm. He says the T-Mobile-Microsoft data loss could have been easily avoided.

Reuven COHEN: When you're using somebody else's service, you'd expect that they would have some kind of back up of your data. Especially something you're paying for.

Up to now, though, the industry hasn't offered many guarantees. So says analyst Michael Cote.

MICHAEL COTe: All of that fine print and shrink wrap that you read, the software and technology industry has been really good about never being responsible for anything terrible or any bad hair days you might have.

Cote says consumers may now come to expect such promises.

In Los Angeles, I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
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Any comments Jimmy?

"Microsoft Says it has Recovered Lost Sidekick Data"

Once again, I'll ask: How many people do you know who have lost locally stored email, documents, etc. due to hardware error or virus/malicious activity because they did not take the time or care to back up their data or protect their PC's?

Now how many people do you know who lost their Gmail, Google docs, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, Shutterfly pictures? How many times has Gmail been "hacked" like you claim?

And what on earth do MBS and ratings agencies have to do with cloud computing?

I've never believed the hype of cloud computing. Microsoft/Danger/T-Mobile have just shown us how human error, even at the corporate level can ruin everything. The best thing for cloud computing is to store junk mail. If data is not lost due to incompetence, it's stolen by hackers.

"Now how many people have lost their email with Google or Yahoo or MSN over the last 10 years? (I'm not talking about small outages, I mean LOST)."

Ask all of the Sidekick users. How many people have lost money on AAA rated bonds?

This article is a bit sensational and misses the point of cloud computing entirely. Suggesting that people would be better off if they backed up their own stuff is a great idea... except nobody does it. I bet everybody here knows somebody or has experienced data loss themselves and, most likely, has nobody to blame but themselves for not backing up data.

Now how many people have lost their email with Google or Yahoo or MSN over the last 10 years? (I'm not talking about small outages, I mean LOST).

Cloud computing is in its infancy and will have some teething problems, but as it evolves as a technology, so will its reliability. Attempting to forshadow its demise through the boneheaded moves of MS/TMobile/Danger is a bit shortsighted.

Hi Kai-

That is one reason I don't do anything either financial or extremely personal on the internet. Also, I have always thought that anything put on the 'net is akin to telling someone a secret (we all know how long THAT lasts!!!)

Is it possible to efficiently download emails and files from free-email services, such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail?

That is, how can individuals backup information that they have "in a cloud"?


I don't think this story is as much about cloud computing. Both Google, Amazon and IBM all have had substantial cloud services offerings without this type of failure. Properly designed and run clouds should be much more resiliant to this sort of failure. I think it is more a story about one company and its inability.

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