Who Owns Data in the Cloud?

By admin | October 25th, 2011

Lately, cloud storage has gotten a lot of positive press. It’s the future of data storage; it’s the cheaper, greener alternative to using hardware servers. However, cloud storage has sparked heated, serious debate about data ownership.

For example, let’s talk about Facebook. Many people do not think of a social-networking site when they think of cloud-storing technology, but it actually is a very good example of cloud storage. Users can simply log onto Facebook from the internet and access their profile from anywhere- a mobile device, iPad, laptop- you name it. Facebook users log onto their profiles online and upload information on to the cloud whenever and wherever.

Yet, although the user has control over their individual privacy settings, Facebook “owns” everything. That’s because what users store on Facebook technically doesn’t “live” in cyberspace but on data-storing servers owned by the company. This means Facebook reserves the right to keep an inactive profile up online long after it has been terminated. The social-networking site can take information from users- age, gender and location- and use it to post appropriate sponsored links that would cater to specific demographics. Facebook can pull words from the “interests” section of profiles to find appropriate ads and sell personal information for marketing and ad research.

It’s a free networking site, after all. They need to make money somehow, right?

Now, the obvious difference between a Facebook profile and a private virtual server is that Facebook makes money from marketing and market research, and cloud-storage service providers make money from providing, well, private virtual servers. Businesses pay these companies to keep information secure yet easily accessible for only people within their network.

This is cloud-storing technology, and when companies decide to get on the cloud, it’s important for them to ask questions before uploading data onto their virtual servers:

  • Where does the information reside? Like mentioned in the Facebook example, there is an actual, physical location for information stored on private virtual servers and these data centers can be anywhere in the world. That means that if a legal issue arises, the laws of the country in which the files physically reside may apply over the laws of your own country.
  •  Once data is uploaded onto the cloud, who really owns it? This doesn’t necessarily apply to the actual secured and personal files but the contact names, phone numbers and email addresses. Read the contract. Does your cloud-storage service provider reserve the right to sell information about your company?
  • What about the actual files stored on your virtual server? Does the third-party storage provider reserve the right to access your files under certain circumstances (for example, for evidence in a trial)?
  • What happens if a company with a virtual server goes under? Does the service provider now own the files uploaded onto the cloud? Should the information be deleted? If so, when?

It’s very difficult to determine what the rules are when it comes to cloud storage, but the silver lining is that the conversation is starting.

– Christina Baldovin, Technical Support International

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