Cloud Computing some emerging issues for consumers

Item 7
Cloud Computing: some emerging issues for consumers
Julian Thomas
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a broad term that describes the shift from conventional desktop based
computing and storage systems to services and data accessed through the
Internet. The ‘cloud’ is the network where applications, data and services are
accessed online. Cloud computing services differ from cloud computing, in that they
are essentially any service that can be “delivered and consumed over the internet in
real-time”,[1] ‘cloud computing’ is the entire framework that enables these services to
exist and be consumed. Cloud computing services are offered at three different
• Infrastructure as a service. A service that includes storage, servers and
networks for IT use, with capacity that can be scaled up or down when
• Platform as a service. Services that allow developers to create applications,
regardless of the usual hardware and infrastructure problems that hinder
• Software as service. An application that exists within a web-based interface, with
storage and interaction occurring entirely within the cloud. [2]
The software service level is most likely to be used by consumers. Web-based email,
calendars, photo and video storage, social networking sites, and applications offered
by providers like Google are enormously popular. Emerging cloud applications
include office productivity software, and even complex, specialist tools such as
Photoshop. In the US, Healthvault and Google Health allow users to store and
update their medical records online, which can be accessed by and shared with
doctors, health professionals and family.
Uptake and attractions
According to a 2008 Pew study, around 69% of US internet users used some form of
cloud computing, including webmail, the storage of videos, photos or other data
online, backing up data to a server or using applications offered by a provider [3]. In
Australia, cloud computing services continue to grow in popularity. In 2009, the New
South Wales Department of Education migrated 1.2 million students to Google Apps.
Users cite the reasons for using such services as ease of use, convenience,
flexibility, and the ability to access data from anywhere. Many popular cloud services
are also either free or low-cost, with business models built on targetted advertising or
subscriptions, rather than the sale of a licence.
Cloud computing represents an interesting centralising trend, taking users back in
some ways to the pre-PC era of mainframes and terminals. But this centralisation is
a response to very recent developments: the multiplication and proliferation of
computing devices in households, schools, and workplaces, and the emergence of
mobile devices. Many iPhone apps involve some kind of cloud computing.
We can summarise the attractions of cloud computing services as follows:
• First, because the cloud is online, data is accessible anywhere, as long as
sufficient Internet bandwidth is available. For most applications, a basic DSL
or 3G connection is enough.
• Second, most cloud services work on a wide variety of platforms and
devices, and most do not require computationally very powerful devices to
undertake complex tasks.
Third, cloud computing helps people deal with multiple devices, such as
smart phones, and computers at home and at school or work.
Fourth, data managed in the cloud is inherently easier to share than
something which lives on a desktop. Google Docs doesn't provide the same
word processing features as Microsoft Word, but it makes much easier for
people to work together on a document.
Issues for consumers
While cloud computing can save time, money and effort, the nature of cloud
computing applications, as well as their dependence on broadband internet pose
some serious issues for consumers.
• Firstly and probably most significant is the issue of privacy. Much of the
appeal of cloud computing lies in its high level of scalability. Information
stored in the cloud is ‘looked after’ by the provider, meaning that consumers
share control over their information with the provider. [6] This creates a range
of privacy and security issues, as well as legal concerns as to who owns and
has access to the information. The recent controversy over the launch of the
Google Buzz service illustrates some of the issues.
• Second, there is the question of how users' information may be used by
service providers or third parties. Because cloud computing services offer
effectively unlimited storage space, it becomes unnecessary to ever delete
information or content that the consumer has added. This is turn creates
enormous amounts of lucrative data that can be sold depending on the
ownership of the information, which poses another issue to consumers. Even
when information, such as an email, is deleted, it often still exists
somewhere, with many organisations retaining content. In 2009, Facebook
changed its Terms of Service, suggesting that all original content is owned by
Facebook, even if the user deletes their account. [7]When you include
information that involves medical and financial records, calendars as well as
other potentially sensitive information, the questions of who owns that data
(both once it is current and once the user has deleted it), and who is entitled
to use it, becomes all the more important.
• Third, there are issues of accountability for how the data is managed. If the
cloud fails, can the user access their information from somewhere else? Or if
they decide to ‘move clouds’ — for example, migrate from Google to Yahoo
— can their data be transferred? By relying on cloud computing, the user is
entrusting all of their information to a service provider. If the cloud fails, who
is responsible for recovering that lost information, and for any costs or
damages incurred by that loss? Storing information somewhere out of the
user’s control requires confidence that the provider will be accountable for
the protection of that data.
• Fourth, the issue of mobility between clouds raises the more fundamental
issue of connectivity between them. Clouds function in ways that recall in
some respects the closed, proprietary networks of the 1980s and 90s, such
as Compuserve or AOL. The tremendous benefit of the Internet as it
emerged in the 1990s was the capacity for users to communicate across
networks, but we may now be losing some of that freedom. Some experts
have suggested that the next major challenge for Internet architects will be
ensuring that clouds communicate with each other.
Questions for discussion
(1) What regulation needs to exist to ensure Cloud computing balances consumers' needs
for privacy with the ease of accessing information?
(2) What safeguards should there be to enable migration from one cloud to another and
ensure that data is not lost in the process?
[1] Frank Gens, ‘Defining Cloud Services and Cloud Computing’, IDCExchange, 23rd
September 2008,, viewed 1st March 2010
[2] David Robbins, ‘Cloud Computing Explained’, PCWorld Business Centre, 15th
May 2009,
cloud_computing_explained.html, viewed 2nd March 2010-03-02
[3] Pew Internet and American Life Project, in John Horrigan, ‘Use of Cloud
Computing Applications and Services’, Pew Research Center,, viewed
2nd March 2010
[4] SpamTitan, ‘Cloud Computing Research Shows Flexibility a Factor is SaaS
Adoption’, Marketwire, 3rd August, viewed 2nd March 2010
[6] Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, ‘The privacy implications of cloud computing’,
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website, March 2009, viewed 1st March 2010,
[7] Jonathan Bailey, ‘The Facebook TOS Controversy’, Plagiarism Today website,
17th February 2009,,
viewed 2nd March 2010