We talked with Rick Stiles, Vice President of Product Development at StoAmigo, to get his thoughts on the future of cloud computing and why it is suddenly on the forefront of our computing lives. StoAmigo is the creator of the CloudLocker personal cloud storage device.

ZCorum: Why is the question of cloud security suddenly on everyone’s mind?

Stiles: It seems like every day we’re hearing about security breaches, so people are more aware of the issue than ever before, especially in the aftermath of the NSA and Snowden leaks. Anyone who turns on the news today is generally aware of the risks of sharing data and storing private info in the cloud somewhere, especially things like tax forms, the title to your house, medical information or other sensitive documents.

ZCorum: But there are some nice benefits to cloud storage.

Stiles: Sure. People like having their data accessible from anywhere, as well as the ability to share with others, whether that’s getting access to a personal document away from home, or sharing pictures of your last vacation. The question is how do we take the ubiquitous nature of the cloud and all of those advantages, but still give people the ability to securely manage and share the data they have.  People want the ability to share what they need to, but not have their personal data sitting on a server somewhere else, presided over by some corporation or service. 

ZCorum: That’s where the personal cloud comes in?

Stiles: Exactly. With a personal cloud device in your home or office, you have the best of both worlds; access to your documents when you’re away along with the ability to easily share with others when you want to, but your files are permanently stored locally. The sharing service resides in the cloud but the actual data is stored on your desk in your own personal cloud device.

ZCorum: So it’s about who actually has the control over your data?

Stiles: Yes, that’s the main issue with any cloud service.  Just go read the Terms and Conditions of a cloud storage service. That will tell you what they’ll do with your material and who will have access to it. You have to be really diligent in your research as a lot of cloud services give access to third-party companies for some of the elements of the service like hosting, storage, or some other attribute of the service. Those are entities that the originating service can’t control.

Another important element to note is some services don’t guarantee that something is deleted when you delete it. Because of the need for high-availability and redundancy, they have to store files in multiple servers in multiple locations, so deleting from one server doesn’t necessarily delete it from ALL the servers. So your personal data could still be out there and accessible somewhere even after you’ve deleted it.

ZCorum: While we don’t think about them as cloud storage services, sites like Facebook and Instagram are storing your data in the cloud. What are the risks there?

Stiles: Let’s take Facebook for example. People are so willing to share a great deal of their personal lives on the Web on sites like Facebook and Instagram and YouTube. But if you read all the fine print you’ll realize that when you post on Facebook and other similar sites, it becomes their property. Every day people are posting stuff on Facebook that they’re sorry about later but it’s too late. You can delete it from your page but it’s still owned by the site and resides somewhere on a server. Hopefully never to surface again but who knows.

ZCorum: Are there any good alternatives out there?

Stiles: Yes. StoAmigo, for example, offers a personal cloud device called CloudLocker, where all the data is stored strictly on the physical device in your home or office. The sharing service doesn’t have copies of your data on a server anywhere; it simply allows access to the data on your device as you grant permission. It stays on your device, but just like a cloud storage service, you can get access to it wherever you are, as long as you have an Internet connection.

ZCorum: How does that work with sites like Facebook?

Stiles: So for instance in the Facebook scenario if you want to share a photo, we only are sharing a link to the photo, which remains on your CloudLocker. If you want to take that down later, you delete the sharing for that item, and the ability to see it on Facebook is gone.  While the picture is shared, it looks just like it’s hosted on Facebook, but in reality it’s not. It’s the same with a video. The video resides on the CloudLocker and plays from there. You can remove access at any time.

ZCorum: You mentioned the NSA. What happens when there is a subpoena with a cloud service versus a personal storage device?

Stiles: In the case of the court ordered subpoena, a cloud storage service will have to turn the information over to the requesting agency, whether that is specific to your data, or your data just happens to be part of a block of data that’s requested. In the case of StoAmigo’s CloudLocker, your data does not reside on our servers and we don’t own it, so there is nothing to give to the court. All the data is on your device in your home.

ZCorum: Final thoughts Rick?

Stiles: For better or worse, the cloud is here to stay. A couple of simple tips will prove to help anyone venturing into cloud storage. Firstly, figure out who owns your data when you store it in the cloud. A little research and homework will go a long way in keeping your private data private. Secondly, when you’re searching for a personal cloud device, make sure it’s a real cloud device and not just someone’s external hard drive that’s been repackaged and sold as a cloud device.