The Law of Gravity and the Cloud

What goes up, must come down. But is that perfectly true of cloud computing? Understand data deletion and the use of cloud services.

Philosophers are weird.

I mean, Descartes slept in a traditional oven.

Demonax got old, thought he couldn’t take care of himself anymore and then simply stopped eating until he died.

Rousseau abandoned his 5 children because it was the fashionable thing to do in his social circle.

Diogenes lived in a small barrel in public.

Plato described man as ‘a featherless biped’

And then Diogenes plucked the feathers off a chicken and asked Plato if it was a chicken or a man. (Huh?)

So it is without shock to discover that even Sir Isaac Newton was an interesting character. At his funeral, it was said, ‘[Newton] was never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor had any commerce with women—a circumstance which was assured me by the physician and surgeon who attended him in his last moments”. Uhhh… Weird much!

All that said to say that when Newton saw an apple fall from a tree, it was only natural for him not to think as the rest of us would have. Instead, he thought “why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground? why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earth’s centre? Assuredly, the reason is, that the earth draws it. there must be a drawing power in the matter & the sum of the drawing power in the matter of the earth must be in the earth’s centre”

And it was so, that these thoughts formed the beginning of what we now learn as the law of gravity/gravitation.

Thanks to Newton, now we know that there is a force of attraction between two masses; the earth and objects in its vicinity. And that this is why we don’t float when we walk, why things drop if they are thrown, why the moon does not go on a frolic of its own, why it’s harder to walk uphill, why we trip down when we fall; and why aeroplanes are real inventions because they are built in such a way that their lift counters gravitational forces. ( I see you, Wright Brothers. )

In more simple terms “What goes up must come down!”

But I’m here to ask. “Is that really true, especially of the Cloud?” Does anything ever really “come down” from the Cloud. Is anything ever really really deleted?

First, it might be needless to say that the ‘Cloud’ being discussed here isn’t the skies or the cloud above. (this is a law-tech blog people!)

Second, it’s also important to note that the Cloud is strictly speaking, not the Internet – as many might think. The Internet is just a global network of computers that enables connectedness. The Cloud (which is actually short for Cloud Computing) is technology that leverages on the internet. It basically allows us store (and access) data or run programs using someone else’s computer via the internet. So instead of storing files on your hard drive or downloading software to your hard drive in order for it to run, you only need to connect to the internet and do that. So imagine using Google Docs online instead of using Microsoft Word which is domiciled locally (on your computer). Or imagine using DropBox to save your files, instead of your flash drive.

Cloud computing has a bunch of advantages. E.g, you don’t have to worry about viruses or any mishap to your software, or even hardware. Also, you don’t have to spend so much on storage infrastructure or on cost for software licensing (although you may have to give a periodic fee to your cloud provider – like how I pay for more space on my Google Drive and I only just got a mail telling me that my payment was declined because: insufficient funds. Poverty die!) Also, you can access your data or run these programs from anywhere; as long as you can connect to the internet. All in all, it is the make-sense thing for you to do.

But the question remains: How sure am I that data deleted from the cloud are truly deleted?

And this question is important for a number for legal reasons. A lot of privacy and security concerns arise with the advent of the cloud because – think about it – it’s essentially putting your data on someone else’s (albeit a corporate person’s) computer; possibly in an unknown location. Anything can happen and you want to be sure that if you delete any data, it is truly deleted.

On this my beautiful site, I recently talked about the right to be forgotten as contained in the GDPR vis-a-vis blockchain technology (it’s super interesting and you should check it out).

But here’s what you should know (and I’m also using the GDPR as a guide here):

  1. Your personal data is to be deleted or returned to you at the expiration of whatever service is being rendered to you. So in line with Cloud Computing, assuming I stop using my Google Drive account – I close it down. All data stored in my Drive must be deleted or returned to me.
  2. You can place a request for your data in the hand of a Cloud service provider in the event that you no longer want them to have it.

Google, a Cloud service provider, has addressed this issue as it relates to them. According to them, “When you delete your customer data, Google’s deletion pipeline begins by confirming the deletion request and eliminating the data iteratively from application and storage layers, from both active and backup storage systems’

In this explainer video on Youtube, Google further explains that ‘…when you remove information from your account, like a search from your search history or a file on Google Drive, we follow a strict process to delete it. They go further to tell us what this process is. ‘To begin, we remove the information from the product (say, ‘Google Drive’) where it was being used so it’s no longer visible for use in the product. We then immediately begin the process of removing the information from the active systems where it’s been stored. During the time it takes to delete information, our systems stop serving it.’

First, Google has confirmed something apparent, and it is that data is not totally deleted when a user deletes is from his/her own end. It’s still stored on the systems which render the cloud service.

Secondly, there has to be an intentional process dedicated to deleting the so-called ‘deleted file’ from where it is being stored with the Cloud Service provider. So imagine you use an iPhone and your pictures automatically synchronize to the iOS cloud service known as iCloud (because trust Apple to put an eye on everything. Get my joke? Get it?). Anyway, imagine you take a sensitive image (say of a naked body) and then you delete it off your phone, and for due diligence, you go to your iCloud and also delete it. Well, what Google is telling you is that the picture (most likely) still exists on the Apple’s storage computers and they’d have to delete it for it to be really deleted.

But guess what? Google isn’t even done. There’s still something they have to do to get it really really  deleted. Check this out. In continuing their explainer video, they say, “As part of our redundant systems, your information might also be in backup storage which is difficult for us to access but available for use to help our services recover in case of a disaster. Data can remain on this backup systems for up to six months. Sometimes, instead of removing information from our systems, we might anonymize the data so that it’s not associated with you”

Aren’t you just thinking, ‘wow!’.

And maybe you’re also thinking, ‘Nah. I’ll just delete my account’. Well, Google has a response to that. They say, ‘And if you delete your account, no worries, we keep your info in a recoverable state for up to one month’.

So you see that while using cloud services, data deletion is not final with the click of the delete button. The file still exists, the question is simply, ‘where?’ and ‘how accessible or vulnerableis it?‘ and ‘how soon do you also get it off your systems?‘ This is why I’ll totally encourage you as a consumer of these products and services to intentionally lookout for data erasure/retention policies of your service providers. If you’re not comfortable with their policies or they don’t even have one, you don’t have to use it.

You’ve heard where Google stands. For more details, you may check it out here

For Microsoft, theirs is here


And now that I’ve served so much gem, I need three things from you:

  1. Kindly give me some feedback in the comment section.
  2. Subscribe so you automagically get my articles in your mailbox.
  3. Share this piece with a friend (or an enemy)

22 thoughts on “The Law of Gravity and the Cloud”

  1. Thanks a lot, Adeboro, This is really enlightening. You talk about things that have never ever crossed my mind before, I always assumed delete is delete, now I know better. Thank you for always serving us so much gem! You’re a gem.

  2. Thanks Adeboro!

    Awesome piece! Quite Enlightening!

    Please, can you also look at the terms and conditions of use of these services?

    Turns out users have little or no choice but to accept, especially when there aren’t many competing alternatives.

    1. LMAO. Please do dear. Just be careful with sensitive info + Google Drive isn’t the only Cloud provider so issa general thing

  3. Wow, really enjoyed reading this thank you Adeboro for dishing out the gems. Now I am asking myself, what is a delete icon???

  4. Really awesome article. What if say I have sensitive innovative ideas on Google drive that Google might find intresting to copy and use ( eg an algorithm), should i be worried that they actually have access to seeing it??

    1. Well, I can say that using Google Drive for storage is essentially storing whatever file it is on Google’s system. They can definitely access it. But then, I doubt that Google would ‘steal’ your idea. If they do, it will be difficult for you to prove it. But in the event that they do and you can prove it, you have yourself more than a million dollar case!

  5. I’m just wondering how you do it? Giving us gems while making us laugh ?
    I guess Google will always have our receipts then. That’s why Jesus is the way, he doesn’t keep record of your wrongs ??

  6. Hey Boro, first time commenting. Interesting article.
    Quick question; What happens to cleared data from browser histories, social media data you have deleted, Is there a way to ensure that service providers(google, microsoft) actually delete it from their back up server?

    1. Hello Ken! Thanks for dropping by! I hope you comment more frequently. I’m not sure there’s a way to ‘ensure’ that service providers delete it – unless you have that kind of access. We simply believe what they tell us they will do (in their privacy policies) – and trust in the legal system to back us up in the event that they don’t do what they promise. It’s why Nigerian laws have to be firmer on the need for data custodians and processors to say what they do with data and mean everything they say.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.