John Gruber wrote an excellent piece on the importance and impact of iCloud.

David Auerbach on Slate suggested that we should not trust iCloud with our data:

Whether or not this particular vulnerability was used to gather some of the photos — Apple is not commenting, as usual, but the ubiquity and popularity of Apple’s products certainly point to the iCloud of being a likely source — its existence is reason enough for users to be deeply upset at their beloved company for not taking security seriously enough. Here are five reasons why you should not trust Apple with your nude photos or, really, with any of your data.

Gruber pointed out Auerbach’s flawed argument:

Over the years I’ve received numerous emails from past and former Genius Bar support staff, telling similar stories of heartbreak. Customer comes in, their iPhone completely broken, or lost, or stolen, and they had precious photos and videos on it. The birth of a child. The last vacation they ever took with a beloved spouse who has since passed away. Did they ever back up their iPhone to a Mac or PC with iTunes? No. In many cases they don’t even know what “iTunes on a PC” even means. Or maybe they connected the iPhone to iTunes once, the day they bought it and needed to activate it, and then never again.

This happened to thousands of people. It’s why Apple made cloud-based backups one of the fundamental pillars of iCloud. It still happens, today, to people who haven’t signed up for iCloud and enabled iCloud backups. It’s heartbreaking in most cases, and downright devastating in some. I’ve heard from Genius Bar staffers who eventually left the job because of the stress of dealing with customers suffering data loss. Once it is determined that the photos and videos are irretrievable from the device and have never been backed up, the job of the Genius staffer turns from technician to grief counselor. Bereavement is not too strong a word.

I know of many friends and relatives who lost their data simply because they never backed up any of the data. Contacts, photos, videos. All gone. And this is not just on iPhones. There are Android and Windows Phone users too. It is not a lack of backup capability in their phones. Rather, it is a lack of awareness of the benefits of backing up and pure laziness. Even when automatic backup has become a standard smartphone feature, many people still do not make use of it. You simply need to enable the function instead of having to manually connect your phone to your computer to back it up.

This brings us to the dilemma on hand:

This is, like almost everything in tech, a trade-off:

  • Your data is far safer from irretrievable loss if it is synced/backed up, regularly, to a cloud-based service.
  • Your data is more at risk of being stolen if it is synced/backed up, regularly, to a cloud-based service.

As a pharmacist by profession, it is a situation I encounter daily:

  • Your condition or symptoms are improved or treated if you take a medication.
  • You are more at risk of developing an adverse drug reaction if you take the medication.

So what do we do? We weigh the benefits and risks. If the benefits outweighs the risks involved, then it makes sense to administer the medication. The same goes for the dilemma of a cloud-based backup. Having a backup to restore your device in the event you lose your phone data is an insurance that can have broad-ranging impact. Let’s consider a photographer who shoots solely on his phone travels around the world to shoot materials for a photobook. Just as he is about to finish the trip, he loses his phone. If he backed up his phone daily, he would only have lost photos he shot on the day he lost his phone. Would he be worrying about his the risk of his phone being stolen or would it be more important for him to be able to back up his data?

Gruber comes to a similar conclusion:

Further, I would wager heavily that there are thousands and thousands more people who have been traumatized by irretrievable data loss (who would have been saved if they’d had cloud-based backups) than those who have been victimized by having their cloud-based accounts hijacked (who would have been saved if they had only stored their data locally on their devices).

Likewise, I believe there are more people who have found long-lost friends on Facebook, or met new friends they would never have without Facebook, than those whose Facebook accounts have been hacked. There are several precautions that you can take to protect your Facebook accounts, such as 2FA, strong passwords, avoid reusing passwords, and being careful with who you add and what you share. However, it is generally those who are tech savvy that would be familiar and comfortable with these. A look at the worst passwords gives you an idea of most people’s attitudes towards digital security.

It is wrong and irresponsible to suggest that people should not to back up their data. The reaction to the possible iCloud breach should be one that generates awareness of how hackers can use social engineering to guess login details, and to encourage good practices to minimise the risk of being hacked.