Mar 04 2012

Data Blackholes Highlight the Need for a User Bill of Rights

The questions over who has the right to keep and use user data remain unanswered.

When you hit the delete button on a social network like Facebook or Twitter, what do you think happens? If you thought that it meant the deleted image or message was erased completely from digital existence, you thought wrong. In many cases, deleted data lives a digital-zombie existence on a server farm in some faraway data center that you know nothing about.

But don’t feel bad. Why shouldn’t the average user think “delete” actually means delete?

This concern over the security and maintenance of data grows even more pressing as businesses and consumers shift to the cloud. Personal use and misuse of data is one thing, but confidential company data getting into the wrong hands as a result of a vendor’s failure to properly dispose of data could irreparably damage a business.

Data blackholes: That’s what CloudAve writer Krishnan Subramanian calls cloud services that fail to delete user data when prompted. Data goes in, but who knows if it ever truly gets out?

These data blackholes have stirred up confusion over acceptable use of user data, its storage and subsequent portability. Now, the issue has caught the attention of the White House and Congress, as President Obama launches what he calls the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Subramanian applauds the president’s initiative in a post on CloudAve but insists that all parties should act with a sense of urgency:

There are many services that treat user data irresponsibly and, more important, there are so many users who give out their data irresponsibly. The responsibility comes from both sides. Vendors should be responsible enough to let users keep the ownership of their data, and users should first check the vendor terms and services before they put their data in (a fact which I have emphasized in the white paper and in many blog posts at CloudAve). I think I should work on a report that will evaluate some of the popular apps for meeting this condition.

This once again brings into focus the user bill of rights and the importance of education from the side of analysts. Many pundits like Ray Wang, James Urquhart and myself have argued in favor of a user bill of rights for a long time, but there is not much momentum on the side of users and vendors.

I think it is high time the industry (vendors, buyers and pundits) come together and have an enforceable user bill of rights. I am glad that US President Obama has called out for data privacy today, and I hope the issue of Data Ownership also gains considerable traction and attracts the attention of government leaders around the world. If we don’t fix the problem ourselves, regulations will eventually descend on us. Do vendors and users really want it to go to that level? Data Blackholes could as well end up being a bigger problem in cloud computing. Wake up and solve the problem NOW.

For more on data blackholes and cloud security, read Subramanian’s post on CloudAve. And for more great content from around the web, check out BizTech's 50 Must-Read IT Blogs.