We all use the cloud almost every day in one form or another. However, many of us have no idea what it actually means.

When we talk about “the cloud,” what this means is that the things you create (a.k.a. data), such as photos, videos, documents and email, are not physically stored on a computer, phone or tablet.

Instead, a network of computers – owned by the large companies which provide various services – holds your information. You can access it, use it, and change it via the Internet.

 
 

Here is an easy example: When you take a picture on your smartphone, it is stored on the phone’s internal hard drive. But when you upload the photo to Google Photos or iCloud Photo Library, you move it to “the cloud.”

You can still see it, share it, and edit it. It looks like it’s on your phone, but it is physically stored on Apple’s or Google’s computers somewhere.

Cloud services have exploded over the past few years. There are many services that you are using that you might not even realize are cloud based. These include:

  • Email – Gmail, Apple mail, Yahoo, etc. Unless you are using an Exchange Mail Server, your email lives in the cloud, not on your machine. You can sign in from any device, anywhere in the world, and check your mail.
  • Photo Storage – Google Photos, Amazon Prime Photos, and Flickr
  • Streaming Media – Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix and Hulu
  • File Management – OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox

Why Should You Care About the Cloud?

As technology continues to get more integrated into everyday life, cloud storage, backup and software services become more essential. For the average user, the cloud has made technology more accessible, affordable and ultimately safer. There are multiple benefits for you to use these services.

You are not using space on your device

How annoying is it when you try to take a picture with your phone and you get that dreaded “Cannot Take Photo” pop-up, that tells you there is not enough available storage to even take a photo?

If you aren’t using a cloud photo storage, you must go through your phone and figure out what you can delete to free up space. The effect is !?@#. By automatically having your photos upload with a cloud service, that becomes much less of an issue.

When you sign up for iCloud, for instance, you automatically get 5GB of storage. If you want to upgrade it to 50GB it is a mere $0.99/month. That is a lot of storage for the average user for not a lot a money.

If you have a Gmail account and use Google Photos & Google Drive for storage, you get 15GB for free and 100 GB for $1.99 month.

Last but not least, if you are an Amazon Prime member, you have FREE unlimited storage for photos.

Software and hardware is expensive and gets outdated fast!

With the cloud, you don’t have to worry about constantly buying new software every year. Yes, you pay an annual fee but the newest version of the software is automatically “pushed” out via updates for you to use.

As for the machines that keep your data, it is up to the cloud service provider to keep things up-to-date, so you have access to the latest and greatest technology.

If one of their servers fails, the data moves to another machine so there is little to no downtime. It’s their business lifeline to keep things reliably accessible and with no lag time in accessing the data.

Replacing Lost or Stolen devices

We’ve all know someone that has dropped their phone in a lake or had it stolen out of their car. While the process of getting a replacement is a pain, if your data is backed up by a cloud service provider, setting up the new one doesn’t result in a complete loss of both device and everything on it. You can purchase a new phone and have everything restored as it was on the lost device.

Security and Privacy with Cloud Services

Because of all the confusion surrounding the cloud, there are a lot of concerns about security and privacy. There is never going to be a 100% guarantee that a cloud service can’t be breached—but the same goes for your own machines and accounts.

Weak passwords, outdated software and old machines that fail are the greatest threat to consumers staying secure. When you stick with tried and true service providers, you greatly decrease security risks.

Reputable providers have highly trained IT people managing machines, software and the data they protect. They are on top of the latest threats. Strict security protocols and constant updates and upgrades keep your data safe, secure and private.

Keep Yourself Safe

How does this apply to you?
Do your due diligence and ask questions when it comes to choosing any cloud service.

Are they a new company? Longevity holds ground in technology. Make sure you are using reputable organizations, such as Google, Apple, Dropbox or Amazon, that have been around for a while.

What are their privacy policies? What are their terms of service? Do you own your data or do they get access to it?

Do they have good reviews? Consumer opinions may vary, but on the average, good services get good reviews.

Have they had any security issues in the past? If so, how did they handle the situation? You are trusting them with your valuable data, so make sure you do your homework. A breach in security is not a killer – it’s how the company responds to it that is critical.

What else can you do to keep yourself secure on the cloud? The basics are key to protecting sensitive and precious information.

  • Be smart about your passwords! That means Fido123 isn’t good enough. Make sure you are using complex passwords, and consider using a password manager.
  • Avoid storing sensitive information in the cloud. Enough said.
  • Always, always, always have at least two methods of backup and cloud storage. I use Google Photos, iCloud Photo Library and Dropbox for my document and photo storage. I have an external hard drive and online backup service. Redundancy is a good thing.

The cloud can be a scary concept for those who don’t take the time to understand it. But with a little education, it is easy to see that the cloud can make your digital life much easier to manage.

Having access to your data from anywhere is the key to using mobile computing with less frustration if you are careful.

What are your favorite gadgets or devices? Do you use any “cloud services?” Are you concerned about the safety of your data with these services, or are you confident in them? Have you had any of your accounts breached because of malware or a service provider being hacked? I would love to hear your take on this subject.

Judi JacobsJudi Jacobs is a lawyer-turned-tech nerd and the founder of The Tech Wizard. As a tech coach and consultant, Judi works with adults 50+ and small businesses to help make technology more user-friendly through small group classes and one-on-one training. Learn more at TheTechWizard.com.

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