But is cloud storage safe? Is it secure? And what does sharing your files with the likes of Google actually mean? Read on as I explain…
What is cloud storage?
When you save a photo, video or document ‘in the cloud’, it just means you’re saving it to a remote database, rather than on your own computer’s hard drive.
If you use an email service such as Hotmail or Gmail, then the emails in your inbox are technically stored in the cloud, and not on your own computer. Of course, the big drawback is that you can’t get at them without an internet connection, or when the service is down.
With local, hard drive storage, you can’t access your files unless you have the computer or drive you saved them on with you. So the big benefit of cloud storage is that you can access your stored files from anywhere with an internet connection, regardless of the computer you’re using.
Web connections are getting faster and more reliable all the time, so cloud storage is becoming more popular. It’s not surprising, given that there’s so much free storage up for grabs. Here’s a look at some of the best cloud storage options, and what they offer.
Google’s cloud storage service is called Google Drive. You get a decent chunk for free, and you can pay a subscription to increase your storage. To access Google Drive you’ll have to sign up for a (free) Google account.
Amount of free storage: 15GB per Google account. However, there’s technically nothing stopping you from creating multiple Google accounts and claiming 15GB worth of free Google Drive storage with each account.
Google’s Terms of Service does not prohibit this but, of course, if you do have multiple Google accounts with files saved in their respective drives, you’ll have to keep track of what you saved where.
Compatible files: Basically, anything. Google Drive supports multiple image, audio and video file types, PDFs, Microsoft Office files (Word documents, Excel spread sheets and so on), .zip folders, Apple Pages and more (there’s a full list here).
Other features: Google Drive allows you to share your files with others. You can even invite collaborators to access and edit files you’ve stored. There’s also a free Android and iPhone Google Drive app.
How secure is it? Provided you keep your Google account password safe, your files should be very secure in the search engine giant’s data centres.
While Google Drive has only been around since last year, Dropbox started in 2008 and, just like Google Drive, offers a degree of free cloud storage before charging a monthly subscription for more storage space.
Amount of free storage: 2GB to begin with, but for every person you refer to Dropbox (who then signs up) you’ll get an extra 500MB of storage, up to 18GB, or 32 referrals.
Again, as each Dropbox account is tied to a single email account, there’s technically nothing stopping you from signing up with each and every email account you have to claim more free storage.
Compatible files: Dropbox says: “Anything you save to your computer can be saved to your Dropbox, including all of your documents, movies, music, photos, internet downloads... you name it.”
Other features: Dropbox allows you to preview some files in your browser or in the Dropbox app before downloading them. The free app is available In the App Store for iPhone and iPad and the Google Play store for Android.
How secure is it? Dropbox says security is its highest priority, and has multiple levels of security (SSL and AES-256 bit encryption) along with two-step verification which adds an extra level of security to your login.
Who owns my uploads? You do. Dropbox’s Terms of Service clearly states: “You retain full ownership to your stuff. We don’t claim any ownership to any of it.”
Amazon Cloud Drive
Online retail behemoth Amazon provides its own cloud storage service, with its own take on file organisation and sharing.
Amount of free storage: 5GB.
Compatible files: Amazon Cloud Drive doesn’t appear to have any restriction on file formats.
Other features: You can share files with other users and keep your files organised with the Amazon Cloud Drive with the online interface.
How secure is it? Storage is encrypted and password protected using your standard Amazon login details.
Who owns my uploads? You do, however Amazon’s T&C’s stipulate: “We may use, access, and retain Your Files in order to provide the Service to you and enforce the terms of the Agreement, and you give us all permissions we need to do so.”
Next to Google Drive, SkyDrive offers the largest amount of free storage, with an added incentive for students.
Amount of free storage: 7GB.
Compatible files: PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, various audio and video files.
Other features: Students get an extra 3GB of storage on top of the standard 7GB. The online application has an easy-to-use drag and drop interface, while the desktop SkyDrive application allows individual file transfers of up to 2GB.
How secure is it? Being Microsoft, security is as robust as you’d expect.
Who owns my uploads? SkyDrive’s Terms of Service says you own all your uploads.
Barclays Cloud It
You trust your bank to keep your cash safe, so it does make sense that a bank would start offering data storage? Barclays has done just that, offering its customers cloud storage for their important documents.
Amount of free storage: Unlimited, but there are some restrictions on file formats.
Compatible files: JPEG, JFIF, GIF, PNG, BMP and TIFF image files, PDFs, DOC, DOCX, TXT, ODT and RTF text files up to 5MB in size each. Video and music files are not allowed.
Other features: Cloud It allows users to tag and date documents in order to keep things organised and set up alerts. For example, if you were to store an insurance renewal notice in Cloud It, you could set an alert to remind you the day before your policy expires. You can also set up email and text alerts. Files are also scanned for malware as they’re uploaded.
How secure is it? Login requires the same PINsentry device you use to log in to your online banking, making it just as secure.
Who owns my uploads? You retain ownership of all files you upload.
45GB, for free!
Assuming you make the most of your Dropbox referrals, you can get as much as 45GB of online cloud storage using the above methods, without paying a penny for it. If every person in your household has a Google account, the amount of free storage you’ll amass between is pretty significant.
If you’re a Barclays customer you can there are essentially no limits (barring video and music files) with Cloud It.
If you use the web and your computer a lot, 45GB might sound like a relatively small amount of free storage, but even if you only use it for you most important files – you won’t have to worry about hardware failure or loss in the same way you might with an external hard drive.
While free cloud storage might not be completely ready to replace external hard drives just yet, it could be a great alternative if you’ve no need for large capacity drives that set you back by around £50 or more, or you just want to safeguard your most essential files.
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