Scouring Google News for interesting articles about privacy concerns I stumble upon an article called, ‘The Price of Free Cloud Resources’. It caught my attention because so many people are starting to use free cloud services for business, educational or personal reasons. The article talks about how free cloud services often come with strings attached. Some might consider these strings an invasion of privacy. John Zittrains statement best describes the overall goal of cloud services, “If what you are getting online is for free, you are not the customer you are the product” (Pierce, 2012).
Jim Siegel from the Consortium of School Networking believes that when you sign up for a free cloud service you are subjecting yourself to being tracked by the service providers or advertisers. He brings up the fact that schools are also using these services. School systems have faced a lot of budget cuts in recent years and many are looking to cloud service such as Google’s cloud to take the place of the programs they paid for in the past. Some are contracting services with Google whereas others are using the consumer based service. The contracted services have more stipulations as to what data is collected and how the use the data. They do follow privacy laws but are still allowed to use the student data in various ways. Other non contract based services that are used might have a disclosure statement that you agree to but how the data is actually used is often vague and hard to understand. The fact is you don’t really know the type of data they are collecting about you and the data that is collected from students is often used to develop tests as products to sell. It is a form of misuse of the data being gathered. All in all cloud services do offer privacy but if you are concerned about being tracked or used for research purposes paid services might be a better way to go. Paid services don’t make money off of tracking advertisements like the free ones tend to do (Pierce, 2012).
As far as implementing a free cloud service to help reach your business goals while protecting customer’s privacy with the right balance both can be accomplished. Free cloud services can be excellent tools to take advantage of if your company does not have the budget or need for downloaded software or full featured paid cloud programs. They offer the ability to share docs, presentations, images, collaborate, manage customers, etc. among multiple platforms. They are very versatile and useful for the business as well as the customer. For instance if you need to send a client a website presentation he/she can easily view or edit regardless of if they have the proper software installed or the same OS. This makes sharing information across the internet free and easy.
There are some simple steps that you can follow to make sure the customers are protected while using free cloud services in your business. Since the data is on the cloud the responsibility of protecting the data falls on the hosting company itself. Research the hosting company to find out where they store the data (is it in the US, privacy laws will vary between nations), what their privacy policies are, how they use the data and who owns the data once it is on the cloud (Online Privacy, 2012). If there is anything you don’t understand contact the company directly to learn more. If the service provider uses the data for research make your clients totally aware of this and give them the chance to opt out if they are not comfortable with it. There is always a chance of sensitive data getting into the wrong hands over the internet. If you do not trust the service providers security practices don’t put extra sensitive data on the cloud. Store it in house or use courier services to send the data by mail. All in all free cloud services can be very beneficial to a company. With any free service there are always strings attached. How big the strings? It needs to carefully researched and weighted against the benefits. But most importantly communicate all of the privacy risks/information to your customers so they can make the choice for themselves whether or not to use it.
Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely. (2012, November). Retrieved December 17, 2012, from https://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs18-cyb.htm#cloud
Pierce, M. (2012, December 4). The Price of Free Cloud Resources. Retrieved December 17, 2012, from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2012/12/04/The-Price-of-Free-Cloud-Resources.aspx?Page=1