Betteridges Law of Headlines notwithstanding, I am not sure there is a clear, unequivocal answer to the question. For the most part, they are my files. I put them on iCloud for safe storage. I think they are my files. I own them. I should be able to control them.
Yet, we hear of computer breaches every day or two; some with hundreds of millions of users who had their personal information hacked by criminals, hackers, or even members of the U.S. government. Some files we store online may even be retrieved by government order. Is what’s mine mine or only sometimes mine?
I ask the question because I worry about what I think is mine but it may turn out not to be mine as much as I thought. Let’s take software as an example. Most applications we buy have an agreement of some sort. Let me use the iOS App Store as an example. We can use the apps we buy, but we can’t resell the apps. Therefore, we do not really own the apps in the same way we can buy a car, use it for years, then sell it to someone else, so we’re really not in full control of what we bought, right?
Some applications, usually not App Store versions, allow for license transfer with a serial number. Fair enough. We’ve also entered the age of subscriptions whereby we pay to use an application which may create files which we use and store, but once we stop paying for the monthly or annual subscription, what happens to the files? Are they mine? Can I exercise control? I want to think they are my files and I control their whereabouts and usage, but in some cases those files may be useless without the application that created the files in the first place. What good is owning a file if you cannot use the file or control how the file is used?
Those questions are slightly different than the original: ‘Do you control the files you store in iCloud?‘ For now, the answer is more complicated than a mere yes or a simple no. The entities which own the cloud locations where I store my files– Apple and iCloud is a good example– may have restrictions on the types and uses of such files, and they may be subject to various laws and legal requests to obtain those files and turn them over to government authorities without my authorization, and perhaps without my knowledge.
How much control of such files do we really have if someone can make a legal challenge to whereby Apple can be obliged to turn them over after such requests? If files on my Mac or iPhone are in my possession (and, ostensibly, within my control), certain legal requests may be issued which require me to turn said files over to authorities. I may own the files but not in every case am I able to control their usage or even their whereabouts.
We hear of this issue occasionally in civil asset forfeiture cases.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in certain criminal activity. In fact, the owner of the property doesn’t even need to be guilty of a crime: Civil asset forfeiture proceedings charge the property itself with involvement in a crime. This means that police can seize your car, home, money, or valuables without ever having to charge you with a crime. There are many, many stories of innocent people being stripped of their money and property by law enforcement.
Anybody have a problem with that?
If I own my files and store them in the cloud and a governmental authority determines that my files– maybe even an application I create– was used in criminal activity, those files can be confiscated by authorities and I have almost no recourse to defend and control what belongs to me, regardless of their usage by me.
Anybody have a problem with that? How can we protect ourselves against such intrusions?