Why you shouldn't trust Google (or any cloud service) with your data [UPDATE]

Getting ready to enthusiastically shovel all your data into the cloud? Here's a cautionary tale of what can happen when your connection to that data is pulled because of accusations that you violated Terms of Service.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

[UPDATE - This issue has now been resolved. Apparently it was down to to an automated system that Google users to scan storage for ToS violations.]

Getting ready to enthusiastically shovel all your data into the cloud? Here's a cautionary tale of what can happen when your connection to that data is pulled because of accusations that you violated Terms of Service.

This is what happened to one Google Apps user Thomas Monopoly (a pseudonym, although now after being called a fake he's changed his name to Dylan M ... his real first name). He was a happy user (and evangelist it seems) of numerous Google services --  until  the company disabled his Google account. On July 15 he received an automated message telling him that Google had 'perceived a violation' and since then hasn't been able to access anything linked to that account. Monopoly vehemently denies claims that he did anything wrong and says that he "did not violate any Terms of Service, either Google's or account specific ToS" and that Google hasn't offered up any evidence to support its claim of a violation.

So how much data did Monopoly lose when Google pulled the plug on his account? A mindbogglingly scary amount:

I had spent maybe four months slowly consolidating my entire online presence, email accounts, banking info, student records, etc, into that one Google account, having determined it to be reliable. That means in terms of information, approximately 7 years of correspondence, over 4,800 photographs and videos, my Google Voice messages, over 500 articles saved to my Google Reader account for scholarship purposes.


I have lost all of my bookmarks, having used Google bookmarks.


I have also lost access to my Docs account with shared documents and backups of inventory files. I have also lost my Calendar access. With this I have lost not only my own personal calendar of doctors appointments, meetings, and various other dates, but I have also lost collaborative calendars, of which I was the creator and of which several man hours were put into creating, community calendars that are now lost.


I have also lost my saved maps and travel history. I have also lost in my correspondence medical records and a variety of very important notes that were attached to my account. My website, a blogger account for which I purchased the domain through Google and designed myself, has also been disabled and lost.

I encourage you to read the rest of Monopoly's letter to Google.

Monopoly has made numerous attempts to contact Google, all of which have so far been unsuccessful. Through Twitter he has managed to attract the attention of Matt Cutts, head of Google's webspam team. Not the right person, but Cutts is both prolific and very active on Twitter, so it could be his best bet for getting this problem resolved.

Now I know what some of you are thinking - Google offers a lot of free services and, bottom line, you get what you pay for. If you think like this then you're missing the point. Google isn't offering a 'free lunch,' it's an exchange. You use Google's services and in exchange Google gets to show you ads or promote its brand or whatever. It's not free. It's a business transaction of sorts. The least that Google  (and other providers of 'free' services) could do is offer some arbitration mechanism. Scrubbing a user off the face of the web is not the way to go.

Oh, and this sort of behavior isn't confined to 'free' services either. One example: earlier this year the photo hosting service Flickr deleted a pro (paid for) account belonging to a photographer, along with 3,400 photos (the account was later recovered, but again only following a backlash in the media). Thankfully these sorts of problems are rare, but the problem is that when they happen, customers don't have anyone they can turn to in order to get the problem solved. It seems that the big corporations just hope that people who have lost data will quietly go away.

That's wrong.

If you're thinking of putting your data in the cloud, you'd also better think about what happens if your access to that data is cut off - because it can happen.

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