Why Apple’s co-founder is wrong about the Cloud

Steve Wozniak is the grandfather of modern computing. The co-founder of Apple, along with one Steve Jobs, redefined how people use computers. For many in the tech world he is a hero. Simple as that. Complete hero. Designed computers in his garage, built them, changed the world. Is that not what we all dream of doing in our lunch hours?

So it is painful for a geek to say this BUT he’s wrong. He’s wrong. Steve Wozniak is wrong.

Last week in an interview he said he foresees “horrible problems” when it comes to the Cloud. He cited issues on data and commented, "I really worry about everything going to the cloud," he said. "I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years. With the cloud, you don't own anything. You already signed it away."

Much has been made of it, particularly the thought that he’s broken rank. This is the man who’s still at Apple and the company has been pushing iCloud for over a year now. It’s the same company that pushed the virtual ownership of books, music and the like through iTunes rather than physical ownership. It’s also allowed a lot of writers to have a dig at the Cloud in a “See, we told you so” kind of way.

But they’re wrong. And he’s wrong.

Wozniak’s biggest fear is about the ownership of information. He’s talking about security and how far the consumer (that’s you) feels like you still have control of the information you’re putting into the ether.

Security is the biggest issue many people site when they talk about the cloud. This year North Bridge published a survey about Cloud computing. Over half, 55% in fact, said security anxiety is the main reason companies don’t want to switch. There’s also, according to the survey, a big concern about regularity compliance.

As IDC research analyst has said in the past, "The richer the pot of data, the more cloud service providers need to do to protect it”.

The onus is on providers to make sure everything is secure. If you’re handing over data then they need to make sure it’s safe. But tarring every provider with the same brush threatens to damage a burgeoning industry that’s radically re-defining how people work and interact online. Most providers have a responsible attitude to security. Intrahost, for example, protects data against virtual as well as physical threats. Security at its data centres includes CCTV, managing against environmental disaster and having key and passcode entry. Virtual security protects from spammers as well as hackers. The idea that “the Cloud” and a transition to it is going to be “horrendous” ignores the fact that many within the industry are doing a great job of making sure data is secure day in and day out. One iPhone not working doesn’t mean you right off the whole brand!

Yet Wozniak’s is right in a way when he says we need to talk about ownership. And this is the second reason why the Cloud needs to be discussed more. Consumers (yes, you again) can’t blithely tick on Ts and Cs without checking what they’re signing up to. The horse has firmly bolted out of the Cloud Computing gate. It isn’t in human nature to go backwards; we always have to plough forwards. Therefore there needs to be wider discussion about the consumer’s responsibility when it comes to the Cloud. Pushing for more regulation, asking tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Gmail if they can have more than one email and password, for example that allows people to access all of you information. Pass on your Apple ID to one third party, for example, and they can access everything from your music collection and pictures of your family to all your work.

Consumers need to have more responsibility in the Cloud. Who puts their PIN number next to their bank card in their wallet? NO ONE. Why? Because we take responsibility for our own security. No one, with their PIN number jotted down on their wallet would the blame their high street bank when their account is drained. So if we use the same password for everything, if we never change it, if we fail to ask providers what they do about security, if we fail to develop a hybrid environment combining a public and a private approach, then isn’t it just the same thing? New technology is freaky, yes, but we need to educate ourselves to know what we need to do to make ourselves safe, rather than just relying on someone else.

If Steve Wozniak’s suggestion is that we should put our fingers in our ears and whistle to ignore the growth of the Cloud then he’s doing au-turn, plain and simple. Is it OK to hand over all of your information to Apple, but no-one else? Consumers need to think carefully and know exactly where their data is and what rights they have over that information. It’s only by people power and providers pushing for it that regulation will change. So he’s wrong. The grandfather of computing is wrong. But that’s what the younger generation does, isn’t it? Tells their elders how they’ve taken their inventions and turned it into something glitzier, newer and more innovative, that’s what we’re supposed to do.