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Privacy concerns for cloud computing range from hackers obtaining personal information to searches by the government. What is rarely considered are the autoscan searches routinely conducted by some cloud providers. These autoscans usually search material when it is uploaded or downloaded. The cloud providers accomplish this by comparing “unique hashes or fingerprints” of files to a database. If matches are found, content could be removed from your cloud storage as a possible copyright violation, or the police could be notified in a case of child pornography. This is great to reduce the exploitation of children, but it raises the question: What else is being scanned?
If this is a concern, there are other options like Spideroak. On Spideroak, each user is the only person to have access to the data stored on the cloud, which Spideroak calls ”zero-knowledge privacy.” Not even Spideroak has access and the files are encrypted on their server, so even if a hacker were to get your files, they would still be encrypted. This does raise another problem: if you lose your password, the data is lost forever, and Spideroak cannot recover it for you, which makes its offering both riskier and more secure than other cloud services.
But even so, should a cloud provider’s terms of service determine the protection your cloud-stored files receive? It seems like some legislative intervention is required. Well, Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced an amendment to the 1986 Electronic Communication Privacy Act which may protect cloud files from government search without a warrant. While this does not address issues between private parties, it could help clear up the Fourth Amendment questions. There is, however, some dispute about the effectiveness of the amendment, and additional problems arise with cloud providers who host their servers outside of the United States, where US law does not apply.
As time goes on, this problem is going to grow, because more and more devices are coming to market that rely on the cloud to operate (e.g., the Chromebook). Further, most tablets and netbooks rely on the cloud to augment their small storage capacities. As these technologies become more and more prevalent, the cloud privacy problem will intensify and require more solutions.
If the cloud’s siren call is too much to resist, I would recommend considering the level of privacy you desire, the ease of access and use you want, and choosing the cloud product that fits. Further, keep in mind the potential need to make a back-up of cloud files at home, just in case a hacker erases them or takes over your account, the cloud provider goes out of business, or some other unforeseen event occurs that deletes everything stored in that cloud.
— Nick Barry
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