Ethical issues in cloud computing #

Cloud computing is based on a paradigm shift with profound implications on computing ethics. The main elements of this shift are:

  1. the control is relinquished to third party services;
  2. the data is stored on multiple sites administered by several organizations; and
  3. multiple services interoperate across the network.

Unauthorized access, data corruption, infrastructure failure, or unavailability are some of the risks related to relinquishing the control to third party services; moreover, it is difficult to identify the source of the problem and the entity causing it. Systems can span the boundaries of multiple organizations and cross the security borders, a process called deperimeterisation. As a result of de-perimeterisation “not only the border of the organizations IT infrastructure blurs, also the border of the accountability becomes less clear”.

The complex structure of cloud services can make it difficult to determine who is responsible in case something undesirable happens. In a complex chain of events or systems, many entities contribute to an action with undesirable consequences, some of them have the opportunity to prevent these consequences, and therefore no one can be held responsible, the so-called “problem of many hands.”

Ubiquitous and unlimited data sharing and storage among organizations test the selfdetermination of information, the right or ability of individuals to exercise personal control over the collection, use and disclosure of their personal data by others; this tests the confidence and trust in todays evolving information society. Identity fraud and theft are made possible by the unauthorized access to personal data in circulation and by new forms of dissemination through social networks and they could also pose a danger to cloud computing.

The question of what can be done proactively about ethics of cloud computing does not have easy answers as many undesirable phenomena in cloud computing will only appear in time. But the need for rules and regulations for the governance of cloud computing are obvious. The term governance means the manner in which something is governed or regulated, the method of management, the system of regulations. Explicit attention to ethics must be paid by governmental organizations providing research funding; private companies are less constraint by ethics oversight and governance arrangements are more conducive to profit generation.

Accountability is a necessary ingredient of cloud computing; adequate information about how data is handled within the cloud and about allocation of responsibility are key elements to enforcing ethics rules in cloud computing. Recorded evidence allows us to assign responsibility; but there can be tension between privacy and accountability and it is important to establish what is being recorded, and who has access to the records.

Unwanted dependency on a cloud service provider, the so-called vendor lock-in, is a serious concern and the current standardization efforts at NIST attempt to address this problem. Another concern for the users is a future with only a handful of companies which dominate the market and dictate prices and policies

Legal Issues in Using Cloud Models
Characteristics of Cloud Computing