How Personal Clouds are Different — User Control

As the personal cloud community grows, I’m often asked how Personal Clouds are different from other kinds of clouds. One of the most important differences is who has control.

Let me pick on Facebook as a representative (non-personal) cloud company in comparison. This comparison would certainly true for many other cloud companies in both the enterprise and the consumer markets as well.

With a personal cloud, the owner of the personal cloud has control over the data on that cloud. This means the owner of the personal clouds decides which information to store, which not to store, which format to use and which to delete. The owner also decides who to share it with and who not to share it with.

On Facebook, that is generally not true. Facebook decides which of the user’s data to store, which to not store, which format to use (a proprietary one) and which to delete. It is generally Facebook’s decision which data to share with whom and with whom not to, and under which circumstances. The frequent complaints by Facebook users about Facebook’s privacy practices, and the lack of influence users have on them, are all caused by the fact that on Facebook, the user does not have control over their data. Facebook does.

The personal cloud community believes that it should be the user, not some service provider, who has control over the user’s data.

Second, with a personal cloud, the user has control over the apps, and more generally the software that runs on the personal cloud. The PC is instructive as a parallel: on a PC, the user decides which apps to install, and which to delete. If the user decides they don’t like an app any more, they can simply delete it but still keep all the data that the app created. It is just the same on a personal cloud.

Compare with Facebook: while Facebook permits what they call “apps”, it’s a far more restrictive version of apps than on the PC: there is no influence the user has at all on the core Facebook experience, which is where most users spend most of their time. If Facebook decides that they want to show more advertisements, or require payment of a fee to display news from certain friends more prominently, there is nothing the user can do about it short of quitting Facebook and losing access to all the their data held by Facebook. As the many complaints about Facebook’s timeline feature showed, Facebook is in control over the functionality, not the user, and Facebook will decide what features to push for their own advantage, not because the users like it better.

It’s clear that having control over apps is better for the user than not having control.

Finally, personal clouds give the user control over the terms. On Facebook, the terms governing access are Facebook’s. User-specific variations of any kind are not possible: instead, it is Facebook that gets to unilaterally update the terms any way they want. Worse, they can kick off any user at any time for any or no reason, with no possible recourse.

Personal clouds are the exact opposite: the user decides what the terms should be, and pick the ones that make most sense to them. While it is true that personal clouds are often hosted on a vendor’s hosting platform (which, in turn, has terms of use), personal clouds can be hosted on a variety of hosting platforms, and can be moved to another hosting platform when the user so desires. That would not work with Facebook: even if Facebook let users export all data they ever created on Facebook, the Facebook software is not available anywhere other than, and so the export would be largely useless.

The real question is this: why have we been satisfied for such a long time being controlled by unaccountable cloud companies? It’s time for personal clouds.

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