November 30, 2010

Cross-National Perceptions of Clouds, Data Protection and Privacy

Nicole Hemsoth

This week Fujitsu released a report that examined cross-national differences in understanding and accepting the inherent data control issues that come with losing information into the cloud. Among key elements of concern are governments having control over a data, which carries a worry level that is not evenly distributed across nations.

November seems to be the official month of cloud computing surveys, with one after another cropping up, often with some variation on gauging adopter patterns and concerns. This week Fujitsu joined the survey ranks with a study of over 3000 people from six countries—all related to issues of data privacy and personal information in the cloud.

While certainly this does not relate directly to high-performance computing, it’s useful to check in now and again with some of the larger trends in the cloud space. It may not come as a surprise that no matter where in the world they are from, people are not exactly comfortable with the thought that their personal data could be floating around anywhere and theoretically accessed by anyone—including their governments.

Despite the “obvious” factor to the Fujitsu survey, it is remarkable in that it presented some striking parallels between how those from different nations place value on personal information as it exists outside of their direct control.

Here are some interesting findings and figures from Fujitsu’s “Personal Data in the Cloud: A Global Survey of Consumer Attitudes” to consider…

90% of US consumers want to be asked to give permission for their data to be shared but only 77% of Japanese consumers do.

88% of people are worried about who has access to their data.

72% of German consumers expect government to keep out of their personal data, but only 46% of US consumers expect this.

36% of Singapore consumers believe that the benefits of using personal data to create personalized shopping experiences outweigh the risks, but only 17% of UK consumers do.

One of the most compelling revelations from of this study relates to the way users in different countries perceive the influence and possibility for data misuse or mishandling from their own governments.

While no country overwhelmingly trusted its government with access and control over cloud-residing data, what does it mean that some of the countries that are most advanced cloud computing-wise (the United States, for example) are those where the greatest fear about government use or viewing of personal data exists?

There is an overwhelming assumption that governments need to have a role in policing data “but this belief is undermined by lack of trust in both the competence and motives of government. While most people recognized that national or indeed, international institutions may be required to police the use of data, some questioned the ability of governments to do this, citing previous failures in security and new IT systems.”

The report went on to note that while “85% expect governments to impose penalties on companies that break data privacy laws, only 52% seriously expect them to stay out of people’s personal data and only 34% want government to take an active role connecting data held about people in different places.”

While Fujitsu went on at length at some of the ways consumers are willing to make “trade-offs” between possible data privacy issues and convenience or other cloud-related benefits, it didn’t ask respondents much in the way of what would make their data privacy issues less of a concern.

Regulation was touted as being one solution, but there can be no total international resolution. As the report noted, “Regulation is, at best, only part of the solution. Consumers are just as concerned about the government’s agenda as they are about that of private companies. Moreover, the significant variance in regional attitudes suggests that a single set of global rules governing data privacy will not answer all consumers’ concerns.”

Again, while some of this consumer cloud fluff touches very little for those in the realm of HPC, whether in the cloud or not, it’s important to keep our finger on the pulse of how cloud adoption is occurring and what the perceived challenges are.

You can download the full report here. Unlike this quick review, the real deal has a lot of snazzy charts.

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