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Cloud computing has the potential to transform the way individual consumers and small businesses store and use data, potentially saving time, money and effort. However, cloud computing involves risks for consumers that must be carefully managed.

Cloud computing lets you do tasks online that were once offline. Cloud computing can be a method of saving and storing your information. Instead of storing information on a local machine or network (e.g. on your hard drive) cloud computing lets you store your information (or data) remotely, on servers that might be in another building, city or even country.  

Cloud computing can also be a way of using software or services. For example, you can use word processing software online, like Google docs, without ever having to download the specific software to your computer. You may already be using a cloud computing service like Hotmail or other web-based email services. 

Cloud computing can contain risks as it requires users to relinquish absolute control of their data, trusting a service provider to protect documents they once controlled directly. Think of it this way, previously small businesses would keep financial records and sensitive documents in a safe place in the office, maybe in a filing cabinet with a lock. The business owner was responsible for keeping these documents secure – he or she would know how many people had copies of the key and would be aware if someone broke in. With cloud computing, the documents that were once stored in the office are now stored externally and are managed and protected by another company.

Data or services in the cloud are only accessible via an internet connection. This means that if you are thinking about using a cloud service you will need a fast, reliable internet connection. You will also need to think about additional costs for increased data uploads and downloads.

ACCAN has developed a position statement explaining what consumers need from cloud computing products which you can read here