Luckily, my spreadsheets and documents are hosted by Google docs, my blogposts and information about my company are in WordPress, many of my photo’s are on Flickr, and my address book is in Plaxo. Furthermore, I can retrieve information via the mail that gets backed up by Apples new Mobile Me service. While the laptop is being fixed I simply borrow a computer and within a few minutes I am back in business. You could say that I store a lot of my information via online services and I access them via a web browser, a phenomenon that is called Cloud Computing.
Of course there has been discussion about the security and ownership risks of cloud computing. Yesterday, a new one came up: privacy risks.
The privacy risks of cloud computing
At the DefCon hackers gathering in Las Vegas, the US military academy professor Greg Conti warned the audience that a trend to push software into the “clouds” exacerbates privacy risks as people trust information to the Internet. Conti also said that “we already give away tons of information about ourselves by searching and mapping software and social networking services, records of email and text messaging are routinely saved and it is common for websites to use software that tracks where online visitors came from and where they go next.”
He continued with “Information on your computer may get protection under the law, but on someone else’s it gets less protection.” The US Department of Justice has tried to pry search data from Google, and China pressured Yahoo to reveal the identities of pro-democracy advocates voicing opinions online. “How hard would it be to target someone as a political activist or a person with AIDS?” Conti asked rhetorically.
The consequences of our online behaviour
I am surprised that privacy risks are linked to Cloud Computing. As Conti says himself: there is a lot of information about individuals online already. Even if cloud computing didn’t exist, information could be found through the way we use search engines and the information we share via blogs and websites.
It is not about how we search, share or host information, it is about the consequences of our online behaviour. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are and what you do. I expect the postman not to read my snail mail, just as I expect the government not to read my GMail.
It seems that we are being warned against using services based on Cloud Computing. However, instead of frightening everybody and talk people into deleting their Facebook profile, shouldn’t we make sure that there are laws to protect people online? Just as they are (or should be) protected in real life?
If someone steals my belongings from my house, he should be arrested. If someone steels my car he should be arrested too, even if I left it on the street.