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Keeping contacts and calendars in the cloud with a digital diary

Berlin (dpa) – The days of carrying around a leather-bound address book became history for many once handheld digital gadgets could be synched with computers to track dates and addresses.

But even that technology is looking endangered thanks to cyber-revolutions that are letting people keep their information in the data cloud, downloading it to whatever device they want, when they want.

Keeping track of one’s data this way is easy, though it does carry some risks.

Cloud services are provided by a range of businesses, like Microsoft, Google and Apple.

”I would recommend managing one’s data centrally,” says Holger Bleich of German computer magazine c’t. ”All contacts should be up-to-date in one place.”

Pulling al the data together isn’t that big a challenge and it means not having to update a variety of devices. ”The cloud is the modern and superior method,” says Bleich.

Standardized transfer protocols mean users can easily switch between devices, says software expert Manuel Fischer of Bitkom, a German technology industry association.

”Even synchronization, for example between an iPhone and Outlook contacts isn’t a problem,” says Fischer. Users usually don’t even notice synchronizations, as they run unnoticed in the background.

These digital address books are usually free. There’s GMail and Calendar from Google, Outlook from Microsoft and iCloud from Apple, all free for consumers, regardless of which tablet or smartphone they use.

But Bleich says sometimes its best not to mix and match. Thus, owners of new Windows devices should probably stick with Microsoft’s cloud service.

”It allows direct synchronization for all Windows devices,” he notes. The same rules apply for Android users and Google products and Apple fans and iCloud. At the same time, there’s nothing stopping users from cross-pollinating. There are even apps to help people jump between worlds.

And there are some barricades. Google hasn’t supported the Microsoft protocol ActiveSync since January, which blocks some avenues for owners of Windows products. But Bleich still holds out hope that the proper protocols could yet be built in.

ActiveSync has the benefit that it pushes all updated data onto all enabled devices immediately, says Bleich.

But there are also risks to bear in mind, not the least of which is the fact that users are entrusting significant amounts of personal data to the cloud. That means companies need to clarify exactly who has access. All users also need to be clear about whether the government of a country hosting the data centre can claim access.

That’s been a problem even with data at European-based centres owned by American firms. Google and Microsoft have, it’s been reported in the past, handed over European customer data to US officials.

And there’s always the danger the information could simply fall into the hands of criminals, to say nothing of the possibility of a technical breakdown. Always be sure to keep a backup of contacts and appointments.