There is no cloud, there are only other people’s computers. This is a phrase you should have tattooed to the inside of your eyelids so you can contemplate it every night. It seems like every company is pushing people to store their data in “the cloud.” Apple has iCloud, Google has its Cloud Platform, Microsoft has Azure, and so on. While backing up to “the cloud” is convenient it also means your data is sitting on somebody else’s computer. In all likelihood that data was uploaded in plaintext as well so it’s readable to the owner of the server.
I have good news though! You don’t have to upload your data to somebody else’s computer! If you use an iPhone it’s actually very easy to make local backups:
If you’re looking for comprehensive privacy, including protection from law enforcement entities, there’s still a loophole here: iCloud. Apple encourages the use of this service on every iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that it sells, and when you do use the service, it backs up your device every time you plug it into its power adapter within range of a known Wi-Fi network. iCloud backups are comprehensive in a way that Android backups still aren’t, and if you’ve been following the San Bernardino case closely, you know that Apple’s own legal process guidelines (PDF) say that the company can hand iMessages, SMS/MMS messages, photos, app data, and voicemail over to law enforcement in the form of an iOS device backup (though some reports claim that Apple wants to strengthen the encryption on iCloud backups, removing the company’s ability to hand the data over to law enforcement).
For most users, this will never be a problem, and the convenience of iCloud backups and easy preservation of your data far outweigh any risks. For people who prefer full control over their data, the easiest option is to stop using iCloud and use iTunes instead. This, too, is not news, and in some ways is a regression to the days before iOS 5 when you needed to use a computer to activate, update, and back up your phone at all. But there are multiple benefits to doing local backups, so while the topic is on everyone’s mind we’ll show you how to do it (in case you don’t know) and what you get from it (in case you don’t know everything).
I backup my iPhone locally and you should too. My local backups are encrypted by iTunes and are stored on fully encrypted hard drives, which is a strategy I also encourage you to follow. Besides enhancing privacy by not making my data available to Apple and any court orders it receives this setup also prevents my data from being obtained if Apple’s iCloud servers are breached (which has happened).
iPhones aren’t the only devices that can be backed up locally. Most modern operating systems have built-in backup tools that clone data to external hard drives. These are far superior backup tools in my opinion than “cloud” backup services. If you backup to fully encrypted hard drives you ensure that your data isn’t easily accessible to unauthorized parties. And you can store some of your encrypted backup drives offsite, say at your parents’ house or place of work, to ensure everything isn’t lost if your house burns to the ground.
Don’t rely on other people’s computers.