Rhodri Marsden: The cloud can burst, so best have a brolly handy

Cyberclinic

Millions of blameless internet users were put in the awful position last week of being forced to look at some other websites when the websites they were trying to access failed to load. Some of these people even had to resort to doing some work instead – a scenario they seemed ill-prepared for – and quickly took to whichever online forums they could access in order to vent their frustration. The cause? A screw-up by Amazon. For you and I they're just an online vendor of books and DVDs, but for many internet entrepreneurs they're the pre-eminent hosting provider, the gateway between their service and the public. When Amazon's infrastructure partly fails – as it did for three days – websites can simply disappear, and there's not a lot anyone can do about it except wait.

Sites affected included Reddit, Quora and Foursquare; not household names, perhaps, but big enough to kick off a debate about the reliability of "the cloud". The likes of Quora love Amazon, because they provide instantly scalable hosting. So if their service suddenly booms in popularity, they don't have to invest in a truckload of extra kit in order to cope; Amazon takes the strain and simply bills for some extra cash. Pay-as-you-go, if you like. But ultimately you get what you pay for. Netflix, an online film vendor and also an Amazon customer, wasn't affected by the outage because it could afford to have contingency plans in place – in this case an instant switch to another data centre in a location other than Virginia (where all Amazon's problems were centred.)

This could just be a humdrum tale of services failing to work properly. After all, we have power cuts and bad weather occasionally, and these things can deprive us of heat, light or postal deliveries. Stuff happens. But we're being persistently beckoned by the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google to "the cloud"; all three will soon launch cloud-based music services in the UK, where all your music can be stored in the ether as disembodied files. And, as last week proved, there will be times when it doesn't work; accessing "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye will, sadly, depend on a multinational company pulling its finger out.

***

People are fond of sticking the boot into Apple and Google, it's true. The latest furore surrounds how much they know about the physical movements of their customers. A new Mac application called iPhoneTracker accesses data lurking in the bowels of your iPhone to present you with a timelined map of everywhere you've travelled since as far back as last summer. Initially you think "wow!" as you match up the map with your diary, checking off your trip to Shropshire or your wait at Heathrow. Then you wonder why this information needs to be stored for so long; so far no one, including Apple, has come up with a decent answer. Caching our locations on a short-term basis can improve the performance of the location-based services we use on our phones, but I've no idea why the details of my trip to Whitstable a couple of months back need to be stored anywhere. Android phones do a similar, although less invasive thing, memorising the last 200 times you used a wi-fi point, along with its location.

Predictably, the "if you've got nothing to hide" brigade swung into action in the aftermath of these revelations – but we all have things to hide, albeit of varying degrees of significance. Your partner could use iPhoneTracker to have a curious peek at where you might have been last week when you claimed to be on a business trip. Equally, the police could confiscate your phone and use it to check your movements against the alibi you gave for that murder you committed. Both very easily done, no warrant required. So either behave yourself, or use a less cutting-edge phone. And if you want to ensure your location isn't stored anywhere, it's probably best not to communicate electronically at all. Just to be safe.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Director - Product Management

    £75000 - £85000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the largest and fastes...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence