Hello, and welcome to a new State of the Cloud, the Cloudwards.net editorial team’s monthly musings on the state of tech in general and the cloud in particular. You won’t be surprised to learn that we’re going to look back at 2018 in general, as well as just December, in the first SotC of 2019. Plus, we’ll be giving a few of our predictions of what the year ahead may bring.
2018 was the year in which privacy breaches came to light as never before, bringing the bad state of our personal data’s security into the limelight. It was also the year where legislators took big tech firms to task for that poor security, as well as the way in which elections all over the world were influenced by troll armies working in the shadows of social media platforms.
Of course, we’ll be doing more than just grinding our usual axes. We’ll also be going over some trends we saw in the cloud storage, online backup and VPN spaces, and we’ll take a stab at what those markets will look like this year. If you’d like to know more about how we’ve grown the website and want to keep track of it, we recommend signing up for our newsletter below.
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Privacy and Perfidy
2018 was the year where the world at large learned of the dirty games played with people’s data thanks to the Facebook scandal (which we talk about for the first time in our April edition), as well as smaller, but no less serious, revelations.
We say “the world at large” because, well, Facebook, in particular, has long been known to be playing fast and loose with people’s data. After all, what kind of firm offering its product for free also launches as a hundred-billion dollar IPO? The basic rule of capitalism is that you need to be selling something, after all, and, in this case, the product was Facebook’s users.
Deep in their heart of hearts, people knew that, but few cared as long as it was contained to targeting ads at you while you browsed Facebook. The ones that did simply opted out of using Facebook. After all, Google was doing much the same thing and nobody seemed to care about that, either.
Of course, targeting the odd ad is one thing, giving away people’s private data to research firms that use it to get people to vote a certain way is quite another. Cambridge Analytica, which to no one’s surprise went bankrupt a few months after the story broke, was, quite simply, a very dodgy company and Facebook had no business breaking its own terms and conditions to go into business with it.
So far, so bad. However, as is often the case once the scandal ball gets rolling, revelations started stacking on top of realizations and it quickly turned out that Facebook had been doing all kinds of stuff that didn’t look too pretty when examined by the bright light of day. For example, it, and plenty of others, has been sharing users’ data with all kinds of companies and apps, and continues to do so.
With all that going on, governments were forced to step in. The tech industry had been allowed to self-regulate up to a point, probably more so because lawmakers had no clue how technology worked than out of a sense of trust, but the situation had gotten out of control.
We’ll let readers’ cynicism decide whether the intervention was motivated by a concern for citizens’ well-being or because populist parties seemed to be hijacking democratic elections through social media manipulation.
It’s easy to conflate the privacy breaches with the election issues — the politicians themselves seem to do so — but they are two different problems that just happened to occur at the same time. Though Facebook intentionally sells people’s data, there is no evidence so far that it, or Google, Twitter, etc., helped spread disinformation that impeded the democratic process.
That said, they can be justly accused of not doing much to stop it either.
Though many commentators seemed mostly interested in the fact that legislators had no clue how technology worked — we’re not sure the average U.S. senator could operate a toaster — pretty much every exec heard admitted little was done to stop disinformation, not that the clueless stammering coming from the bench wasn’t hilarious.
Over the past few months, though, companies such as Twitter and Facebook have started stepping up and removing troll accounts. That means they have always been able to, they just couldn’t be bothered before. The same goes for Google. Once it was pressured to do something about misleading ads and weird search results, it started removing them.
It goes to show that, in some cases, all people need is a bit of coaxing, though it is disturbing that billion-dollar companies need to be prodded to protect democracy and users’ rights in the same way an exasperated mother gets her teenage son out of bed in the morning.
Looking Forward: Privacy and Security
With the above in mind, we predict that 2019 will be all about privacy and security. While it seems only a small minority of people — let alone lawmakers and other powers that be — get hot under the collar over it, there may be just enough impetus for real change.
One example is how the General Data Privacy Regulation seems to be more than just a piece of paper. While any new, sweeping regulation is scary, there’s always the probability that it is no more than hot political air. The GDPR isn’t, though. Fines have already been handed out by national watchdogs, and Facebook might be facing some serious trouble over infringements.
At the same time, legislators the world over are pushing for regulation of Big Tech, often in the form of taxes, but also general “privacy by design” measures. Plus, the public outcry over Google’s Chinese search engine, dubbed Dragonfly, was enough for the company to bury it. Add the threat of anti-trust action in Europe, and the forces tech companies see arrayed against them should keep them from their worst shenanigans.
That said, this sword cuts both ways. Though governments are getting serious about how Big Tech invades our privacy, there’s a good chance that they’ll get the tools to do it, too.
Even now, pressure is being exerted on WhatsApp and Facebook to allow backdoors into their secure messaging apps so security agencies can read the messages of suspects. That’s not a bad thing if they’re going after people plotting some nastiness, but who’s to say they won’t come after torrenters or other desirables next? Slippery slopes abound here.
The VPN Wars
The fact that tech companies and governments are coming after our private data is probably why we’re seeing so much more interest in our best VPN than before. After all, if nobody is going to protect you, you’re going to have to do it yourself. A virtual private network is one of the easiest ways to do that, so it’s a good place to start.
This surge in interest, plus the fact that setting up a VPN company isn’t too hard — setting up a good VPN is hard, a mediocre one, not so much — is probably why we’re not only seeing a surge in the amount of VPNs, but also intensified competition in the form of steeply reduced prices and better features, from expanded server networks to the number of allowed devices.
Of course, soldiers die in wars. We’re already seeing services that set up shop just a few months ago go down. For one example, read our VikingVPN review, where a provider went kerplooey, while keeping its website active.
Expect that kind of thing a lot in 2019, as well as ever greater efforts in marketing and client retention. One good indicator is the amount of spam comments from dodgy VPNs we remove every morning. It’s just crazy.
Storage and Backup in 2019
Though the heat is highest among VPNs, don’t think that our other mainstay, storage and backup, is quiet. The storage wars are far behind us, but there’s still plenty happening, with the main thing being that companies are realizing storage space is expensive.
Our first signal was back in 2017, when CrashPlan closed its doors to regular users to focus on small to mid-sized businesses instead. Then, we saw that more and more providers were removing the word “unlimited” from their pages or putting an asterisk next to it.
Another emerging trend is that prices are fluctuating strongly, while free offerings are being curtailed.
You can read about one example in our MEGA review. It used to offer up to 50GB for free, but it has effectively reduced that to 15GB. Another example is pCloud, which used to offer 10GB plus extras for recommending it, but now only offers 2GB for free and only 8GB can be “earned.” Read more about that in our pCloud review.
Though free plans are getting scarcer, pricing goes up and down a lot. If you feel that something is too pricey, just wait a few weeks and the offer will have changed. As usual, the customer is king when pricing wars go on, so it pays to be on the lookout for a decrease in quality. Check our best cloud storage picks regularly for the latest on your favorite provider.
Though we’d like to be more specific in our predictions for 2019, we don’t want to fall into the trap of prefacing next year’s predictions with a shamefaced article admitting how wrong we were before. At the same time, we feel confident that 2019 will be the year of contrite tech corporations, activist governments and better deals for VPN and storage customers.
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Do you think we have it right? Or are we so far off the money it isn’t even funny? Let us know in the comments below. As always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful 2019. We hope you keep checking in on our state of the cloud pieces, as well as our other content. Stay safe.