Online Ownership

Opinion by Verity Sleeman

The cloud has been a somewhat nebulous concept for a few years.

The cloud has been a somewhat nebulous concept for a few years.

However, its flexibility has meant that both individuals and business are starting to understand the benefits it brings and know the difference between their infrastructure, platform and software as-a-service, but what about the thorny security issues raised by the cloud?

Facebook, Instagram, Soundclound and Twitter are the public face of the cloud, the ‘social cloud' if you like. So many people are recording their entire life on the cloud - storing pictures, sound files, documents, diaries, random and emotive (quite possibly regretted in the future) statuses. IPhones can track where you have been. Siri sends all your voice commands into the cloud for processing. Increasingly, the computing power that services our lives is delivered from the cloud.

The question is ‘who owns the data?' The problem of ownership is an interesting one, particularly where we are dealing with data online. For example, do you remember the ‘Dear Sophie' advert? The advertisement Google Chrome created to make the most heartless among us shed tears of emotion?

Here, Sophie's entire life was logged on Google Chrome. Hang on a minute though, that part doesn't sound so lovely. You could even phrase it differently – sinister?

Google Chrome has captured Sophie's whole life and isn't that just a tiny bit scary - given that she had no say in the matter. What would Sophie say when she grows up and realises that her entire childhood is in the public domain?

This is happening right now; devoted mothers are posting pictures of their children on social media sites. What rights will the children have to remove these pictures later in life? The law is very unclear on this point; for example Facebook ‘owns' everything posted to it.

It is at this point I must make a confession of complete and utter hypocrisy – I tweet every day, update my Facebook status regularly, I'm LinkedIn to the great and good in the industry (well, those at IRM anyway) and would lose the pleasure of listening to a lot of my favourite bands if it were not for the cloud. I'm a convert, to a point.

I'm not necessarily saying the cloud is wrong and should be scrapped because, to be perfectly honest, it's pretty damn convenient. What I am saying is that we must be aware that of certain issue: life goes on around you in real-time and not on social media sites; data privacy and retention will certainly become a bigger issue as the cloud demands more personal information from us all (and it does demand, I have to provide ever more personal information in order for my more sophisticated smartphone apps to work); and the cloud is here to stay, and it changes everything.

Where there is information, there is risk. This is a relatively new concept, and something that businesses have had to come to terms with. We now have to come to terms with this as individuals; we must come to a decision as to how much risk we are willing to take with regards to the use and sharing of our personal information. What is the risk of exposure of this information and the long term possibilities and consequences of misuse?

It's a risk/benefit conundrum, like so many others. Do the benefits of using the cloud outweigh the risks? Are people using cloud services even aware of the potential risks (for example, do people really trust Facebook with their data) There is a generation growing up for whom storing personal information in the cloud is just part of life, completely accepted, and therefore not something to worry about.

Unfortunately for them, the people that make the rules are basing them on old paradigms, when the risks were different or non-existent. Pity the child who's entire life is in the public domain and who was never made aware of the consequences.

Verity Sleeman is a marketing executive at consultants Information Risk Management

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