With the increased popularity of Web-based software that shares information through cloud computing, legal scholars who are scrutinizing privacy issues say user privacy is in need of serious revision.
A recent paper authored by Washington and Lee University law professors Jay P. Kesan, Carol Hayes and Masooda N. Bashir examines the conditions of “terms of service” (TOS) agreements and privacy policies of several major cloud services to assess the state of user privacy in the cloud.
The paper, “Information Privacy and Data Control in Cloud Computing: Consumers, Privacy Preferences, and Market Efficiency,” concludes that the current approach to user privacy in the cloud is in need of “serious revision.”
“Our goal with this piece is to raise awareness of the privacy of online information, which is something that people seem to care about a lot more once they actually know what companies are doing with their personal information and data,” said Kesan, the H. Ross & Helen Workman Research Scholar in the College of Law.
Many free services online – which are subsidized by advertising revenue – require that consumers must agree to the website’s terms of service and provide personal information that will help advertisers more effectively target potential customers.
The authors maintain that so-called baseline regulations need to be enacted to both protect consumers while preserving market vitality. This right of data control consists of two parts – data mobility and a broader right of “data withdrawal.”
The earliest forms of cloud computing are e-mail storage and other software as a service (SaaS (News - Alert))-based cloud communications – arguably the type of cloud computing that consumers are most familiar with.
Kesan and his colleagues maintain that consumers are entitled to the right to switch providers that may offer stronger security measures.
“We argue that data in the cloud is essential for meaningful consumer choice,” the paper said. “Consumers will inherently have less control over data stored in the cloud, but being able to choose (and switch to) providers that are more reliable or that offer stronger security measures is important for preserving consumer autonomy.”
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