Giving cloud services a black eye

In a post last week, I mentioned that sometimes something good accidentally happens as a result of the dark machinations of the technology industry’s various would-be Evil Overlords. In the interest of fairness, this week I’m going to point out that more often than not, when the Evil Overlords get involved in the affairs of mere mortals, something wicked this way comes.

The networking mega-corporation Cisco is usually so far behind the scenes that it’s never considered a contender for the Evil Overlord label. If you work in a large company, maybe you’ve heard somebody from tech support ranting about the frustration of taking a Cisco certification exam (although obviously they’ve never experienced the arcane adventure that is Novell Netware). Otherwise, you seldom hear the name spoken in public. Until a few weeks ago, anyway.

Back in April or thereabouts Cisco rolled out “Cisco Connect Cloud,” a cloud-based service that automates management on some of the company’s higher-end home routers marketed under their Linksys brand. As originally introduced, the service was optional, but a few weeks ago Cisco pushed out a new firmware upgrade that made the service the default setting for a lot of Linksys gadgets. A lot of router users were suddenly very unhappy about feeling forced to hand control of their gadgets over to the company they’d bought them from.

On top of that, as noted in an article from Ars Technica, eagle-eyed and tech-savvy users spotted some extremely ominous language in the new software’s Terms of Service.  Cisco backed off the grim Orwellian language in the ToS and apologized for user “inconvenience” very quickly, but you still have to wonder how a global mega-corporation could so badly foul up the legalese associated with an important new service.

After Cisco’s hasty retreat, the world is once again spinning in greased grooves;  among other changes, signing on to the Cisco Cloud Service is now entirely optional. Still, the episode is an interesting insight into how a large technology corporation can view its relationship with its customers. At some point in time, consider, somebody sitting in a corner office thought those Terms of Service were a top-notch idea.

Cloud-based services like Google Drive, Dropbox and Chrome Applications are gaining in popularity, but a lot of small businesses — and old-school bigger businesses — still don’t put a lot of trust in the “cloud.” Episodes like Cisco’s Cloud Services mess aren’t exactly confidence builders, especially in an era when business owners are more concerned than ever about the security and ownership of their business data.