As cloud computing becomes more popular, privacy concerns associated with the technology become more worrisome. What is cloud computing anyway? Although there are many different categories of cloud computing and quite a bit of confusion as to what exactly it is, it generally refers to the idea of users running applications and storing data on remote servers through the Internet. Though it may sound obscure, Internet users are probably familiar with the different manifestations of cloud computing, including web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo, personal photo storage services like Photobucket and Google Documents.

So what exactly is the privacy issue? When someone uses these cloud computing services, data is stored on someone else’s server and not one’s own hardware, and therefore, the user loses some control over the data. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Institute and the American Life Project, 69% of Americans online are using cloud computing services, many of whom shared several privacy concerns about their data. First, approximately 90% of those polled reported that they would be very concerned if hosts of cloud computing web services were selling their data to a third party. Second, 68% of those polled reported that they would be concerned if hosts of these web services analyzed the information to provide targeted ads to users based on the analysis. Finally, about 49% of those polled reported that they would be very concerned if the cloud computing services they were using disclosed their data to law enforcement agencies.

Incidentally, these concerns are well founded. Google and other web services are utilizing personal data from these cloud computing services to specifically target ads to users, and through the Stored Communications Act, some data stored through cloud computing services can be seized by law enforcement officers.

There clearly exists a discrepancy between the reality of the limited scope of protection and the privacy expectations of the users. Users expect that their data in the hands of the cloud computing services will have privacy protections similar to the protections of data stored on their personal computers. However, according to Ari Shwartz, Vice President of the Center for Democracy and Technology, “U.S. courts have generally ruled that private data stored in the cloud doesn’t enjoy the same level of protection from law enforcement searches that data stored on a personal computer does.” Along the sames lines, Nemertes Researcher, Andreas M. Antonopoulos, says: “The very fact that you put the data ‘out there’ somehow strips any ‘expectation of privacy’ which is a key criterion for the level of due process protection (based on my limited understanding of law).”

This concern for the protection of data in the cloud seems to be an important one, as cloud computing becomes even more prevalent. The issues of cloud computing will soon become an important area of debate in Washington D.C. Some factors to consider are that the lack of protection for the privacy of the data in the “cloud” is contrary to the expectations of the users and that this undeveloped scope of protection is sure to make cloud computing a less usable technology for individuals with sensitive information. As the issue is debated, hopefully the discrepancies between the realities and expectations of users and the difficulty it would cause for individuals with sensitive information will call for more stringent protections for data in the “cloud.”

Additional Sources:

The Privacy Implications of Cloud Computing

Arstechnica

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