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Woz Fears the Cloud, But You Don't Have To

Steve Wozniak's statement this past weekend that cloud computing could cause "horrible problems" has gone viral, but with all due respect to the visionary Apple co-founder -- take his fears with a grain of salt.

Wozniak gave the off-the-cuff remark 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. According to PhysOrg.com, a news service covering science and technology, Wozniak revealed his concern over the growing trend of storing data in cloud-based services in a response to an audience question after the performance, which took place at the Woolly Mammoth theater in Washington, D.C.

"I really worry about everything going to the cloud," Wozniak reportedly 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."

Sure, there will be plenty of problems with cloud computing just as there are issues with all forms of computing. We've already seen 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. You already signed it away," he said, 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 vulnerable 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 inevitably sparks 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? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at jschwartz@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on August 09, 2012 at 11:59 AM


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