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The Cloud Ate My Homework 305

Posted by timothy
from the low-hanging-clouds-are-fog dept.
theodp writes "Over at CNET, James Urquhart sings the praises of cloud computing, encouraging folks to 'really listen to what is being said, understand how the cloud is being used, and seriously evaluate how this disruptive model will change your projects, your organization, and even your career.' Fair enough. Over at the Google Docs Help Forum, some perplexed cloud computing users spent the month of November unsuccessfully trying to figure out why they've been zinged for inappropriate content. Among the items deemed inappropriate and unshareable include notes on Henry David Thoreau ('the published version of this item cannot be shared until a Google review finds that the content is appropriate'), homework assignments, high school yearbook plans, wishlists, documents containing botanical names for plants, a list of websites for an ecommerce class, and a list of companies that rent motorcycles in Canada. When it comes to support in the cloud, it kind of looks like you might get what you pay for."
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The Cloud Ate My Homework

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  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:46AM (#30283054) Journal

    This is exactly why I never want to move everything "in the cloud", or in to Internet services for that matter. Locally ran applications are there for a reason and things like this wouldn't happen for example with MS Office or Open Office. You're the one controlling your work, not some algorithms that suddenly decide to mark your work "inappropriate". And you don't have to wait for days for someone to answer to your support ticket with a copy-pasted "things to try" list.

    Even if you're going for "cloud" services, get a reliable one that states exactly their backup plans and other things. And for gods sake, put out a few dollars for it if you're excepting any level of support or reliability.

  • Can't be trusted (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Xamusk (702162) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:51AM (#30283130)
    That's exactly why I do any serious work by "offline" means. And I hope I can still keep doing this in the following years (aka: I hope Chrome OS's way of going "everything online" doesn't catch up)
  • Rule #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Carewolf (581105) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:55AM (#30283194) Homepage

    Rule #1 of cloud computing: "Do not trust the cloud".

    Why is Google even able to review the content? Content should be encrypted.

  • by ChienAndalu (1293930) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:57AM (#30283236)

    I totally agree.

    All it takes is to save your document, send it to everybody you want to share it with (or upload it onto RapidShare). Then all you have to do is wait for the ones that have the same version of MS Office to send their modified version of the document, which you open and figure out what changed and then edit your local file, while the ones with another version of MS Office simply use the PC of their dad and send you their edits which don't reflect the current state of the document so you send them the most recent version and explain that you do not have to use a premium account on rapidshare and please check your spam folder because I have definitely sent the mail but forgot the attachment let me send it again maybe the virus filter ate it then zip it with a password did and check if you send Tom the latest version and remember he is using OpenOffice .

  • Review!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vadim_t (324782) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:02AM (#30283312) Homepage

    Ok, I understand that unencrypted content is never guaranteed to be safe, so don't put anything of value in there. But the general assumption people make is that there's just so much stuff in there and most of it is so uninteresting that nobody will probably bother looking at it, unless it happens to show up in debug traces by chance, or something of the sort.

    But, "review" suggests somebody at Google *will* look at that content. Imagine that -- some drone at Google will be looking at your private work you want to share only with select people, or company data, and decide (when they get around it) that you can share it after all.

    IMO just the possibility of this happening at all makes the whole thing suspect, and could bite you in the ass right in the worst moment. "Sorry boss, I can't share that report because Google thinks there's porn in it. We'll have to wait until somebody at Google looks at it". I'm sure that would make for an interesting day.

  • Fuck the cloud. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:08AM (#30283416)
    The cloud can kiss my shiny white ass. My data is mine, I own it, I control it, and they can pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:17AM (#30283506)

    Exactly. If the word "cloud" means anything at all, it means that the server is owned and maintained by someone else. Thus "private cloud" is an oxymoron.

  • Re:Review!? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vadim_t (324782) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:40AM (#30283810) Homepage

    This part is certainly a big, big concern. I can understand why Google feels the need to do it -- they want to avoid facilitating a paedophile ring or whatever -- but normal users should expect that their data is not ordinarily looked at.

    Ah yes, you can justify absolutely anything in the name of fighting child porn. At this rate soon everybody will get a rectal exam at the airport, just in case they have a flash drive in there.

    But interestingly enough, the same filtering doesn't apply to email, AFAIK. So I don't get what's the point.

    To be fair, you can always save-as HTML/RTF/DOC/etc. and send your boss that.

    Yeah, that one is easy. The big deal is when you're really using the extra stuff google docs provides.

    For instance, I worked in a situation where several developers located in different countries used google docs to work on the same document. If Google suddenly decides the document can't be shared, that throws a wrench in the works. Not the end of the world for sure, but it could be very annoying and very inconvenient. It will definitely mess up the workflow. All of a sudden, instead of getting work done people have to talk to each other to explain what happened, figure out a new workflow, a way to decide who works on what part, who to mail the changes to and so on.

    And since Google can take whatever time it wants with the review, you don't even get an estimation of how long will this situation last. Very not cool.

  • by mweather (1089505) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:41AM (#30283822)
    Disingenuous? Why? It seems to be a pretty accurate description of working with multiple versions of Office. I'd have thrown in Word Perfect, too. I always have to deal with Word Perfect files from lawyers. Thank god Open Office opens them.
  • Re:Rule #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jitterman (987991) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:44AM (#30283866)

    ... google isn't minding its own goddamn business, it doesn't have to review private data shared between individuals, as long as its legal.

    To the point, the question isn't "as long as it's legal" but rather, "as long as there is no legal warrant requiring overturn of documents to proper authorities." Google should NOT have any role in deciding whether something is legal in the first place, as that implies they have already reviewed your content and made an independent determination.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:45AM (#30283892)

    Perspective, chief. Before the Internet nobody but those with lots of money could ever transmit their ideas broadly. Before, say, the 1900's, nobody could, period. Now, sometimes you can, but if you rely on a free service to do it then they might set some restrictions; that doesn't sound like erosion of rights to me so much as it sounds like progress.

    Google may provide tools that can enhance the effectiveness you enjoy when you exercise your rights, but that doesn't mean they're "abridging" your rights if they don't provide you with those tools.

    Have you committed every resource at your disposal to helping other be heard, even when you disagree with them? Does that mean you're "abridging" their rights? Sure, you have less money than Google so you'd be doing less good than Google can do, but we all do what we can, no? No. Of course not. It's one individual's job not to infringe another's rights, but it's not one individual's job to bolster another's rights.

    As for the right to bear arms - where is that listed as inalienable? The only rights I'm aware of having been given that distinction are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I've never seen anything that suggests you should be able to carry a weapon anywhere you want at any time you want.

    What makes the space you rent to sleep in any different from any other property you don't own? Do you believe the 2nd ammendment intends that you can bring a weapon into my home whether I want you to or not? (That's actually the kind of behavior that can lose you those inalienable rights.)

  • Re:Censorship. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:50AM (#30283946)

    No it's not. If I own a building I don't have to let you "express yourself" all over the wall.

    Google owns it's servers and software. They let you use them, subject to certain conditions. If you don't like those conditions, don't use them (an approach which I take to a greater or lesser degree).

    Censorship is serious. Save the rant for when there's actually some censorship going on otherwise we'll be in a crying wolf situation.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:52AM (#30283964) Homepage

    The fact that they are using any "filter" at all is a reason never to use the service.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @11:53AM (#30283982)

    Yes, and this is indistinguishable from the concept of "a server," which makes the "cloud" part of "private cloud" even more meaningless than usual. As I said.

  • by cbreaker (561297) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:00PM (#30284082) Journal
    This is the same reason I never ran Google Desktop. Google Desktop saves indexes on their servers. I want a level of privacy.

    There's no, none, nada guarantee that your data is safe or secure when using ANY online system. Just look at what happened with the Sidekicks recently. Who would have ever thought that could ever happen? They had backups, they had RAID, they had redundant servers. But, shit happens, and it did, and it CAN happen to Google.

    Plus, now you've got all this censorship bullshit. Well, it's not Censorship mostly, it's "protecting copyright." At all costs. It could easily disintegrate into real full-blown censorship, too.

    These services will be popular and I'll probably even use them eventually, but only for documents and files that I don't care if people get their hands on, and that I don't care if I lose. For everything else, it's backups as usual.

    There's services such as Carbonite and others that provide a way to back up your system in a mostly secure way. From what I understand, with Carbonite, everything is encrypted on their servers, and only your password will decrypt the files, even through the Web interface. This seems acceptable to me, and their servers aren't crawling through my documents making sure there's nothing copyright in there.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:05PM (#30284148) Journal
    A technology that ends up dying a risible death, alone and unloved, can, at best, have been touted as a disruptive technology. Actually disruptive technologies have to do some disrupting.
  • by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:08PM (#30284196)

    I'm not sure why you think I care about a solution for "sharing" homework (which when I went to school went by the shorter name "cheating")... but are you kidding me?

    With the state of software today, if you can't get a wiki going then you sure as hell don't know enough to be relying on the cloud.

  • Hardly a new story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:15PM (#30284286) Homepage Journal

    This sort of problem isn't at all new; it's much of why the "personal computer" approach took over computing back in the 1980s.

    Before that, and still today in some large organizations, the "mainframe" was the only computer. When the little desktop computers started appearing, the "computer center" people in most companies and other organizations argued against them, mostly on the grounds that the work could be done much cheaper on the mainframe. Buying a lot of single-user machines was illogical from a purely cost-oriented viewpoint. But people kept finding ways to use their funds to buy the new little computers for a very simple reason: The mainframe was in the hands of a bureaucracy that had completely controlled what you could do on it. If you wanted to do something new (like run one of those newfangled "spreadsheet" programs), you had to go begging the DP people for permission. You couldn't install software on the mainframe yourself; the DP people had to install it for you. If they didn't think you needed it, you didn't get it. They usually had no idea what a "spreadsheet" was, so you couldn't get it. You couldn't have a terminal that did real-time interaction with software on the mainframe anyway, so a spreadsheet was sorta unusable on a mainframe.

    So people bought the new little machines, not to save money, but so that they could do the things that the people in the computer department wouldn't allow them to do. Eventually the people at the top learned what was happening, and the sensible ones figured out that it was to their benefit to take the side of the workers and allow this to continue. The ones that forbid the use of desktop computers found that their company was slowly being made uncompetitive by the lack of ability to do the sorts of data processing (such as spreadsheets) that their competitors were doing.

    The "cloud computing" idea has its merits. But it will always have the same problems that mainframe computers had. It will be under the control of the giant organizations (mostly secretive corporations) that run the cloud. Those organizations will have unfettered access to any data stored on their part of the cloud, and will use your data for their own purposes whenever they see a profit in doing so. If they don't like something you're doing, they will be able to block it. If you want control of your own data for any reason, you will have to keep it and the associated software on hardware that you own and control. If you don't, you'll find your pictures of your kids being used commercially. If your photo collection contains a picture of your kids in the bathtub or otherwise naked, they'll be labelled as "child porn" and deleted or sent to your local police. (Gotta bring in "Think of the children" here. ;-)

    It's the way things have always worked, and always will. There are reasons people want privacy, some frivolous and some serious. And there are things that are best done in public settings. For those things, the "cloud" will be a big win for everyone.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:23PM (#30284398)

    How you access your software is a distinct issue from software interoperability.

    You think in the future of the Cloud there will only be one word processor? Not if the Cloud were to take off as the platform of the future there wouldn't. Look at the direction we're already heading. Someone complains about the lack of control in the Cloud, people say "use a pay service whose terms you like better".

    Well, do you think there's just going to be one pay service? Or that it will give you access to everything for one flat rate? Maybe that will be the near-future model, while people are still getting their footing in this allegedly-new world.

    If there's money to be made, the big players will each have a Cloud. They'll each support some set of software; why would you assume that it would all be the same, or even interoperable?

    Sure, as long as you're using software that's part of a "free" service, anyone else can jump in and use the same software; but that's not the Cloud of the future, because there you have no leverage to control your content. (Sure, in this case Google's only limiting your ability to share the document; surely you don't think that's the only thing they could decide to do? Trust them to never decide to do more if you want; I don't.)

    Even within a single cloud, are software companies forever going to give up on charging upgrade fees? do you really think they can't deliver incompatible versions of their software to those who don't pay for the latest and greatest, just because they're delivering it through the Cloud?

    A lot of people have their head in the clouds.

  • by somersault (912633) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:24PM (#30284410) Homepage Journal

    Or, you could continue using google docs, but just keep offline backups of your files, or email the files to yourself, etc. Don't see what all the fuss is about.. anyone who doesn't keep backups of their important files, will either learn to do so the first time they lose data, or.. they're an idiot and are going to have problems on any system, as you point out.

  • Standards? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rgviza (1303161) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:25PM (#30284418)

    I'll use the cloud when the vendors decide on a open data access standard (along with standard data import and export capability) and actually adhere to it. Til then they can keep it. Submitting to vendor lock in is not a very intelligent IT strategy, which means using cloud computing isn't an intelligent IT strategy if it involves development.

    Sometimes cheap isn't very cheap at all.

  • Re:Censorship. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @01:25PM (#30285248)

    Yes, censorship is censorship, and you're using the word incorrectly.

    The guy whose homework was eaten may indeed find the situation very serious and he should certainly think twice about trusting important documents to third parties again, but he was not censored. He is free to distribute his ideas as he wishes, using his own means of communication.

    To summarize: there is a problem, but it is not censorship.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @02:46PM (#30286576) Homepage Journal

    ``When it comes to support in the cloud, it kind of looks like you might get what you pay for.''

    Oh, please. The connection of "you get what you pay for" with support is only used to discredit whatever technology the speaker doesn't happen to like.

    There are free products with great support just as there are expensive products with crappy or nonexistent support. The phrase "you get what you pay for" was widely used to discredit open-source software, but it turns out that such software is now actually preferred over commercial software in many instances. And you often get quite a lot of support that you didn't pay for if you browse the fora.

    "When it comes to support, you get what you pay for" is a cheap, meaningless slingshot.

    There are real disadvantages to cloud computing, but bad support isn't one of them. You get the support that the provider gives you, and that can be great or horrible, regardless of whether they charge for it and regardless of whether or not they provide cloud computing.

  • Re:Yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by justleavealonemmmkay (1207142) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @04:44PM (#30288536)

    So you are telling us that you felt qualified to give IT advice to a PhD student, yet fail to understand basic design principles as "no single points of failure" ?

  • by jc42 (318812) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:52PM (#30292366) Homepage Journal

    When every worker has a PC, but only the IT department has root access, then we end up with the same situation again.

    You're right, of course, and I quoted you in case the moderators don't mod you up. This is one widespread result of the DP (or IT or whatever) department deciding that they couldn't win the battle against those newfangled small computers, so they'd better switch to subverting and controlling the new system. It's a running battle in lots of organizations, especially in corporations that have a strong top-down management philosophy.

    In a local unix/linux mailing list, there's currently an ongoing discussion of the problem of developers not being allowed root access to their dev/test machines. This has gotta be one of the stupidest cases of the desire for power, since blocking developers from being able to get at the lowest levels of their test systems is a blatant case of "shooting yourself in the foot" out of a mere desire for control of things that the controllers rarely understand. But, contrary to the ideology often expressed here that corporations exist only to make a profit, the fact is that many people in any corporate hierarchy are primarily motivated by a personal quest for power over their underlings. So they'll seriously interfere with development projects to maintain control, to the point of blocking developers' access to needed equipment. The DP/IT/whatever department is often an extreme case of this. In most corporations, they know that they'll never make it to the top (unless the current rulers include a very close relative ;-). So instead of being a functional "service" department, their actual approach is attempting to gain effective control of the other departments that they are supposedly serving.

    We can expect the vendors of "cloud" services to behave similarly. They will function basically as a shared, distributed "IT Department" for their customers. Their public face will be saying "The customer is always right", as the old motto goes. Meanwhile, they'll be doing their best to get and maintain control over their customers' data. It's the way that human organizations of all sorts work in the Real World[TM].

    Many of the future stories on the "cloud" will probably be about people learning, often the hard way, about the new power relationship they've entered into.

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