We now know that Apple will use next week’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference to unveil iCloud, its new cloud storage product. Apple’s first attempt at cloud storage, MobileMe, was such a failure that Steve Jobs publicly tore into the Apple team for tarnishing the company’s reputation.
It looks like the 2.0 version will probably be getting it right and customers will now be able to share their documents, movies, music and photos from the Apple “cloud” (and by cloud, we mean Apple-owned servers on the ground in fire-proof rooms). Most of Apple’s customers will use the company’s products without thinking twice about the sensitivity of the information they are handing over.
That’s a lot of trust that could be misplaced. The risk for any form of cloud computing is that you no longer have exclusive access to your files. Cloud storage by Apple and others sounds economical in terms of hard-drive space saved at your office and used more efficiently by Apple, but cloud computing creates vast opportunities for theft of private information and, as we’ve written before here, there’s no proof that Apple will be able to protect yours.
For now, speculation has it that iCloud will be used mostly for sharing movies, music and photos. But the plan is also to integrate it into the upcoming iPad and iPhone software iOS 5, creating an operating system that will be able to communicate with the Apple cloud with or without your approval. A further concern is that the very popular apps that define Apple’s devices could be able to transmit information over the new cloud-based system.
Simply put, your files and information, including location and other personal data, are going to be somewhere in cyberspace, where they stand a chance of being intercepted. Or Apple could just have unlimited access to them.
This type of information interception has the U.S. Senate taking first steps in formally drafting laws that aim to further protect personal data. In mid-April, Senators John Kerry and John McCain offered a privacy bill that would “strike a balance between consumer advocacy groups and the [tech] industry.” Now that Apple is introducing iCloud to their enormous following, the Senate’s discussion on adequate regulation could not be coming at a better time.
Although the Kerry/McCain bill is a step in the right direction, a solution from lawmakers will probably take more time than is required for companies, such as Apple, to roll out new products and gather large quantities of sensitive information.