Sometimes I think I am becoming unpopular on some educational technology websites. I have a keen distrust of free hosted services that are touted by so may web evangelists and those that frequent such sites. Some edtech sites almost seem like clearinghouses for free Internet based services. I have often challenged the use of such site citing student privacy and (less often) data control and ownership.
Today I came across a link to a provocatively worded blog post condemning these free cloud services offered so widely today. Before you click, I want to warn you that this post uses strong language. Jason Scott is an archiver of old BBS data and producer of a five hour documentary on Boston area Bulletin Board Services. He clearly has a larger historical perspective than most who use the Internet today.
You are going to have to sit down and ask yourself some very tough questions because the time where you could get away without asking very tough questions with regard to your online presence and data are gone.
We increasingly rely on online repositories for our work and can no longer do so thoughtlessly. He isn’t talking so much about data you have so much as data you have created—our photographs, blogposts, videos, etc. Many are relying on cloud sites to store this data. He further states:
Because if you’re not asking what stuff means anything to you, then you’re a sucker, ready to throw your stuff down at the nearest gaping hole that proclaims it is a free service (or ad-supported service), quietly flinging you past an End User License Agreement that indicates that, at the end of the day, you might as well as dragged all this stuff to the trash. If it goes, it’s gone.
The larger perspective shows us that these services have abruptly disappeared in the past and that relying on these services puts our data at peril. Jason Scott does not say we shouldn’t use the cloud, rather we should not rely upon it to store our only copy of content that we created. They let you store your stuff for free in their cloud. Why should they put themselves in legal peril by guaranteeing the safety of the data?
This issue of data safety will be exasperated by our current fiscal climate. Banks and large financial institutions that appear solid one day are collapsing the next. Liquidity is drying up and investors are reluctant to risk money in businesses that do not have a reliable revenue stream such as firms that offer free Internet services.
I’ll go a step further than Jason in regard to the license agreements on such sites. Not only do these sites relinquish responsibility for the safety of the data, they often also tell you that you are giving up the ownership of your data.
This all is made even worse when teachers have their students rely so heavily on these cloud solutions for storing their content. Both students and teachers have begun to take these resources for granted with little regard for the safety of using such sites. Is this the behavior that teachers should model?
The solution is to take responsibility for your data. In most cases that means paying, either for a service that provides a guarantee and a clearly articulated back up plan, or for inexpensive server space that you personally back up. Anything less is folly.