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November 16, 2010

Misplaced concerns about privacy in the Cloud?

by AlanSBPerkins

Here’s a thought: Imagine needing a solution for processing diverse vendor bills or handwritten documents digitally with 100% accuracy. Imagine these come in continuously but without any idea of frequency. Obviously if you can provide some sort of API then others can hook into your system directly, but what if you are dealing with consumers who won’t use a computer? With Amazon’s Mechanical Turk you can programmatically assign these tasks to the public in a bidding system where you set the price of the request. You can make three independent requests for someone to enter the data into your database, compare the results for the three, and only if the three match do you consider the record processed. If one of them doesn’t match the other two you would go out with a new request and keep doing so until you get three that match. Any one who did not match would  be marked with a demerit and if they earn enough demerits you would block them from accepting future tasks. They would also be incentivated to do well because it would affect their public rating.

The cloud enables all sorts of variations of this model. It provides a means to connect low-paid service providers with companies who require tasks to be completed quickly and efficiently at very low cost. In essence it is similar to the microcredit schemes initiated by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and others in the sense that it opens up avenues of empowerment, but this potentially opens up opportunities for corporates to benefit as well. Incidentally, the founder of the Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peach Prize for his work.

For many businesses this scenario is a frightening nightmare scenario – the encapsulation of the very things that prevent them from considering the cloud. And in many cases, this is simply not an option. But it creates an interesting thought experiment – how far can we go in the interest of efficiency to open our systems up to micro-outsourcing arrangements like this?

I suspect that over time scenarios like this will become more acceptable. Today though, I can’t see many people signing off on an implementation like this. If it were me, I would be looking to SOA models and trying to get suppliers into a B2B relationship. Years ago EDI would have been the way – if you wanted to be a supplier to one of the big department stores, you needed to hook into their systems. But this is a digression – the example postulated was about non-technical integrations.

But it begs the question about why we are so focused on concerns about privacy in the cloud to the exclusion of the benefits – sure, the above example opens a Pandora’s box of privacy concerns and would be almost universally rejected , but what about the normal, regular uses of the cloud? For most scenarios the lengths the major cloud service providers go to to ensure  data is accessible by only those who should see it should allay any fears – after all, typically, the big cloud providers have a lot more to lose if they leak  corporate data.

It is not the cloud vendors we should be fearful of, it is the way we choose to use their services; it is the way we choose to run our companies, it is the way we choose to view the world in which we live.

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