Who Exactly Owns Your Data in the Cloud?

Between Gmail, Google Docs, Zoho, Facebook, Basecamp, Flickr, Twitter and countless other applications, much of our data now sits in the cloud. But few people ever stop to think about where that data is stored or how it might be accessed or used. So who exactly does own your data and who has access to it? And how much privacy can you expect?

These questions get all the more complex because many web application providers are using cloud services from the likes of Amazon and Google, which means data doesn’t necessarily sit on the app provider’s servers. Additionally, there is an increased use of APIs to facilitate greater interoperability among web apps, meaning that your data may be used in many ways that you don’t expect. How can you learn more about the rights you have to your data, as well as the rights others have to it? GigaOM Pro (subscription required) this week has a great report by Simon Mackie that tackles these questions. The report delves into two main issues:

Data Privacy. When it comes to the U.S., the Fourth Amendment states that people should “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” But web-hosted applications and cloud services are too new for the courts to have been able to provide far-reaching guidance on data privacy online. Issues related to data privacy get even more complex when data is stored outside of the country. Some cloud services, such as Amazon’s, let you choose the region in which you want your data stored; and some, such as Google’s, don’t.

Data Security. There are any number of threats to your data online. Your application or service provider could go belly up, you could fall prey to hackers or you could simply be locked out of your account. The good news is that data portability and security policies are being scrutinized closely by several organizations, and there are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability in the could.

For much more on these and other issues pertaining to your data and the cloud, see Simon’s full report.