Google’s Play Music slipup reminds us not to be fooled into thinking we own what we put in the “Cloud”


If you were paying attention to the news last week, you probably heard about Google's slight snafu with its Google Play Music service and rooted users. The problem was that Google limited users to four active devices on Google Music, but then prevented users from deauthorizing more than 10 old devices. What this essentially meant is that if you for some reason try to authorize a 15th device in less than a year, you won't be able to access the music you had trusted Google to store for you. 

Normally this wouldn't be a problem for anyone but those who review smartphones (or obsessively switch phones during the year) but there was one other problem. Every time rooted users would flash a new ROM, Music would count that as a new device. Suddenly, anyone who liked to tweak their phone's software was in danger of hitting that cap easily.

Fortunately, Google heard the complaints of the rooted community, and quickly undid their wrong. For now, all is well with Google Music, and Google's actions have actually restored some of my faith in their pledge to "Not be evil". However, the rule did cause me a bit of inconvenience during even the short time it was active, which has me rethinking my nearly total commitment to Google's and other's online services.

As a heavy user of both Android and Google's services, I naturally turned to Google Music when it was first released. It provided a great and convenient way for me to have all my music on all my devices, without manually syncing every time I got a new device, review unit, or installed a new ROM. In the past, I had used Dropbox to more easily download all my music, but Google Music promised to be a more streamlined and simple solution. 

For quite a while, it was just that. With new devices or software installations, all I had to do was log in and all my music was available. However, between review units and installing new ROMs on my Kindle Fire I quickly had over 14 devices on my account, and had to start deauthorizing old devices. This was fine until the new rule went into place. That day, I had installed an updated ROM on the Fire and was logging into Google Music to prepare for something of a road trip. Unfortunately, I was greeted with the error that I had too many devices authorized on my account. No problem, I'll just go online and deauthorize one. It was then that I found out I had already deauthorized too many devices, and that I wouldn't be able to use the Kindle with Google Music that day. 

Of course, this is hardly a tragic scenario, as all I missed out on was listening to a bit of Foreigner while driving to Tennessee. However, it still isn't something that should have happened. I own all my songs and have purchased them legally, and expect to be able to access and play them whenever I want. As such, I didn't see any reason why Google Music should be any different. I had to go through the lengthy process of uploading the actual .mp3 files of the songs I own (and converting some from .flac) to Google's servers, so it should have been clear that the music that I let Google manage for my convenience was still, in fact, mine.

This may make me sound quite picky and prone to complaining, but consider this other scenario. I am also a heavy user of Google Drive/Docs, and although I used to always have a backup document saved to Dropbox and then synced to all of my computers, I have become less diligent with that practice as of late. As I use Drive to store many of my school papers for easy access, that could potentially become a problem. Suppose I have completed a long paper, and need to turn it in. Unfortunately, there has been some kind of authorization or legal issue with my Drive account and I can no longer access my file. I now have a big problem on my hands, thanks to my trusting of Google to manage the files that I own.

A situation like that is certainly far fetched, and someone would have to be a touch unintelligent to trust Google with their only copy of an important document or file. More and more often, though, I see it happen. There might not be problems now, but when the only copy of a file you think you own is sitting on some company's servers, you could have a big problem in the near future.

I suppose then that my point is this: although Google, Dropbox, and others may offer you convenient ways to manage your data, they still can't be completely trusted to control your files. This may seem very obvious to some of you, but I see plenty of people every day who trust "the cloud" to manage their only copy of something.  I'm not saying that these services are bad in the least, as I am a heavy user of numerous cloud synchronization and data management services. The idea is, however, that we can't yet trust these services completely, and should always keep local copies of any important data. Especially for mobile users for whom the cloud is quite convenient, keeping a file in only the cloud usually isn't a great option, so even if it's convenient it would probably be best to download it locally at least somewhere.

As for me, I'm still using Google Music, but will be looking into a Dropsync music solution which will keep the actual music files on both my desktop computers and smartphone, allowing me to play my music whenever I want, without having to worry about what Google thinks.

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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