Lawsuit raises questions about data privacy and the cloud

Recent disclosures in a California lawsuit raise several red flags about how government data may be used by cloud providers.  It calls into question cloud providers with business models that rely heavily upon advertising revenue and monetizing user data.

The lawsuit alleges that Google violated federal and state wiretap and privacy laws by data mining the email content of students who used Google’s Apps for Education and Google’s Gmail messaging service.  The larger issue is that public-sector users of certain cloud services, including federal government employees, may not be protected from data mining and user profiling for advertising purposes.

Cloud providers, such as Google, are collecting petabytes of data each week.  Now, with the use of big data mining approaches, those providers have the ability to understand more about you than you think.  Some of this data is rather personal, such as likely sexual orientation, current health, income, or even the likelihood that you’ll commit a crime this year.

So, now that we understand what this data is able to tell us, the question is: What limitations and disclosers should exist to address privacy issues?  Until we have that answer, these types of lawsuits could become more common.