Peace, Love and Sharing Your Files Online

The cloud was made for sharing. That means computing power, programs and data. All the data you put into the cloud can be shared with anyone who has an Internet connection, if you choose to share. The cloud is never off or unavailable, unlike your desktop PC or that USB memory stick you forgot to take with you. Unlike email, it doesn’t need you to initiate the sharing. And unlike FTP (File Transfer Protocol) sites, there are no funky protocols or sessions to deal with. But is online file sharing all peace and love, or does it still take a little discipline to prevent total anarchy?
Pioneers who Started the Online Sharing
Dropbox was among the first to make online file sharing intuitively easy. It caught on with consumers and businesses, as well as third party developers. Today, Dropbox applications also include DropVoice for sharing voicemail messages, yet another kind of online file. Google Drive followed with a similarly easy to use system. Once a user has a Google account (for example, by signing up for the free Gmail service), he or she can upload files and secure them by making designated sharers specifying their email addresses as access identification; or simply distribute a link to those to be given access to the file.
Where the Challenges Start
Sharing files online starts to pose a few challenges however if you want to go beyond just leaving an mp3 file or two on line for people to listen to. There’s the question of security – how do you protect confidential data from prying eyes while still making it available to authorized users? And the knotty problem of file modification – who gets to change what and what happens if you don’t agree with the changes made?
Encryption of Shared Online Files
The prevention of snooping means using encryption, a term that many non-expert users view with apprehension. If the cloud storage provider provides the encryption, it will protect your files against unauthorized access, only decrypting them for transmission to a user who presents a valid user ID and password. However, that means the provider also has the encryption key. If your data is very sensitive, this situation may represent a risk that is unacceptable. In that case, you may choose to encrypt your data before you upload it. To then share it with another designated user, you’ll need to transmit the encryption/decryption key to that user.
Dealing with Online File Changes by Multiple Users
File modification presents other challenges. Many online file storage services offer file syncing for the individual user with multiple devices, but not necessarily for multiple users. The fundamental challenge is to manage the actions of several users on a file, which happen in any order at any time. This problem isn’t new. Database applications are a case in point. The solution in this case is often to lock the database file while one user is updating the database and to restrict changes to one piece of data at a time.
Veto, Version Control, or Trust?
When users can make changes to the entire file however, different solutions may need to be considered. Online version control is now available as a solution for peacefully sharing and modifying files together online. Other options include: simply disallow any changes by anyone other than the original file owner; or simply trust your friends not to do anything rash – in which case, you should make sure you know them well enough to make such a decision!