Sidekick Disaster Shows Data's Not Safe in the 'Cloud'

In these cases, the supplier is always wrong. Why? Because without the marketing surrounding the product or service, consumers would have no expectations whatsoever. And when you have a million or more angry customers who think you betrayed them, you can be damn sure that somewhere in your marketing/PR/advertising program you said something – explicitly or implicitly – that gave them an overblown expectation.

Sure, Microsoft and T-Mobile can logically argue that they were under no obligation to provide perfect data integrity -- after all, smartphone manufacturers aren't required to guarantee that data stored on their phones will be secure forever. But logic has nothing to do with it. Sidekick users expected their data to be safe in the cloud – and if Microsoft and T-Mobile didn't know that, they were negligent in their understanding of their users, and in violation of the resulting implied contract. And I predict that a judge -- if there isn't a mass settlement first -- will determine that this is true, even if there was some fine print on the Sidekick Terms of Usage that held the two companies not responsible for any loss of data.

The real damage, however, will not come from the lawsuits, but from the loss of faith. It's hard to believe that anyone will ever again trust their Sidekick. There will always be the nagging fear, every time to store some important piece of information on the device, that any second it might be lost … and the only response will be a shrugged 'Sorry' from Microsoft and T-Mobile, a small cash payment, and another month's free usage of a service you don't want to use anymore.

As for the rest of us, this little debacle should serve as a warning. Every day we place more and more of our trust in computing Clouds – that is, we shift an ever-greater fraction of our personal information from stand-alone personal devices to unknown servers off in some distant data center. We assume that information is safe – from hackers, from data miners and bad guys, from the government, and from erasure.

Fifteen years ago, when Oracle's Larry Ellison first proposed the idea of 'net' computers – i.e., cheap laptops that would use the Web for both software applications and data storage – he was met with derision. What fool, people asked, would entrust their vital medical records and family photographs to the Internet, where they might be lost or tampered with?

These days, it seems, we are all that fool. What, after all, is a Blackberry -- or a Sidekick -- but one of Ellison's net computers with, thanks to Moore's Law, a little bit more processing power? Yet, somehow, during those intervening years -- perhaps merely through habituation -- we've lost our fears about the risks associated with the Cloud. Now that we're fully committed, it appears that we have made a mistake.

Perhaps this Sidekick mess is merely a one-off event. But, once again, that doesn't matter. What counts is that we never really ever trust the Cloud again . . .and that's a pretty big deal when you consider that the notion of a 'cloud' is rapidly becoming the defining metaphor -- of business organizations, markets, educational institutions, search engines, and of course, computing -- in the 21t century.

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