The Legal, Social, Ethical, and Security Concerns and Developments of Cloud Computing

Madison Stroud
IT 103-010
October 2, 2014
Research Paper
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The science of cloud computing has been present since the mid-20th century. However, it
has recently hit an all-time high in terms of its ability to be recognized outside of the
technological community. According to Williams (2012), “Cloud computing is essentially the
next phase of innovation and adoption of a platform for computing, networking, and storage
technologies designed to provide rapid time to market and drastic cost reductions” (p. 2). PC
Magazine describes cloud computing, "In the simplest terms, [as] storing and accessing data and
programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive” (2013). The remaining length
of this research paper will discuss the background, potential benefits, legal and ethical issues,
security concerns, social concerns, and future of cloud computing.
To date, the origin of the term “cloud computing” is unclear. The phrase “cloud” is often
used by scientists to depict a collection of items that, from a distance, form the appearance of a
cloud. The modern concept of cloud computing was first referenced by name as early as 1996,
though the underlying concepts associated with the cloud originated with the development of the
mainframe computer in the 1950s (“Cloud computing,” 2014). Throughout the next few
decades, namely in the 1990s, the race to introduce a way of making computers more accessible
and affordable for clients heated up. Developers competed to find a way to make their
technology the most advanced and user-friendly through a process called time-sharing (“Cloud
computing, 2014). The advancement of time-sharing services laid the foundation for cloud
computing. A typical time-sharing system “provided access to computing machinery for users
who lacked a mainframe” (Hayes, 2008, p. 9). Though time-sharing happened much earlier, the
first open-source, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Application Programming Interface (API)-


compatible program for deploying private clouds came about in 2008 with Eucalyptus (“Cloud
computing,” 2014). Eucalyptus’s advancement signified the dawn of a new era. According to
Wikipedia’s article, “Cloud computing” (2014), in July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA
launched a joint open-source cloud-software project called OpenStack. The purpose of this
initiative was to aid businesses and organizations in offering services of cloud computing
without having to upgrade to above-standard hardware. Subsequently, in March of 2011, IBM
announced their own cloud software, the IBM SmartCloud, and in June of 2012, Oracle
announced the Oracle Cloud. The idea of the cloud is to make data storage and access easier for
businesses and consumers, and many major technology companies have taken part in the cloud
computing revolution that has been escalating since 2008.
Potential Benefits
The concept of cloud computing comes with many flaws. Opposition to a world that
depends upon technology is strong amongst all generations. However, there are potential
benefits to relying on cloud-based storage. There are three main advantages of cloud-based
computing that are repeatedly found in pro-cloud research. One proposal is that it is a step
toward “greener” storage; that is, leaving less of a carbon footprint on the earth and its
atmosphere. The idea of cloud computing working in conjunction with environmentalism
combines two of the most considerable movements of the 21st century. According to Newton
(2010), a McKinsey report “estimates that IT, taken as a whole … [accounts] for about 2 percent
of global emissions” (p. 29). Additionally, it estimates that by 2020, with current trends,
information technology (IT) will contribute to three percent of global emissions. The argument
built against the traditional client-server model is that there is a general acceptance of the oneserver-one-task ideal. However, if these servers were put to use at full capacity, the world could


cut down the number of operating servers by approximately ninety-four percent (Newton, 2010,
p. 30). Such a reduction is precisely what cloud computing could potentially produce. By
making the Internet the storage facility for virtually all data, Newton asserts that cloud
computing presents itself as the best solution to greenly and efficiently solving the everincreasing demands for computation and data storage (2010, p. 30).
Another benefit of cloud-based computing is the possibilities that it provides educators,
students, and educational facilities. Particular attention is drawn to the benefits cloud-computing
would give to developmental education. The essential draw of cloud computing is that it
requires only Internet access. These minimal requirements present many questions, as Holschuh
and Caverly (2010) propose,
Why pay for Microsoft Office when you can use the free, web-based office suites offered
by Google or Zoho ( or even Microsoft itself … ? If all you need to do is
resize a photo, why pay for Adobe Photoshop, when you can use Adobe’s Photoshop
Online ( Why use Endnote when you can keep track of references
in Zotero ( a free plug-in for the Firefox browser that works with both
Microsoft Office and the free, open-source OpenOffice ( (p. 36).
Not only are these applications free, but data storage is free as well. The constant availability of
the Internet also allows for ease of document creation and document sharing, which is important
in many education systems. The low-cost promises of cloud computing are almost unable to be
ignored, not only by schools. Businesses also seek to reap benefits from the inexpensive nature
of cloud computing, which is the third main argument on the supporting side of the cloud. In
addition to lower costs, upgrading technology to have the newest and fastest programs is a main
goal of both businesses and academic institutions. By presenting themselves as a modern


establishment, businesses and schools hope to attract more employees, customers, and students
(Sultan, 2010, p. 112). Cloud computing offers an opportunity for corporations and institutions
to become the 21st-century fantasy that the upcoming generation reveres.
Legal and Ethical Concerns
With the transition to cloud computing on the mind of many major companies, public
entities must be thinking about it, too. However, there are legal concerns associated with
becoming a cloud-based institution. In a response to a column written by Meredith Farkas in
American Libraries, Will Stuivenga states, “It’s important that libraries at least think about the
possible legal consequences of this move toward cloud computing” (2009, p. 11). Not only do
libraries have to worry, but so do other public-funded organizations. Stuivegna points out that
there are possible consequences from cloud computing involving statutory requirements.
Additionally, there is confusion for the cloud operators as to where they fall
jurisdictionally. Due to the ambiguous nature of the location of the cloud, it is difficult to
discern which laws are applicable. Not only is this confusion pertinent in the United States, but
“European and Asian companies have expressed concerns about having their data stored on
computers in the USA which fall under jurisdiction of the USA PATRIOT Act [sic], allowing the
U.S. government to access that data very easily” (Denny, 2010, p. 239).
As the science of cloud computing develops, so does the code of ethics associated with it.
Arden (2010) states, “Cloud computing systems not only need to be secured against attacks
coming from Internet strangers, cloud users also need to be insulated from one another and from
unauthorized access by the cloud computing service providers’ own personnel” (pp. 56-57). Due
to the lack of protocol associated with cloud computing, there are few, if any, precedents set
regarding ethics of the cloud. Companies can easily transfer a user’s data from country to


country, so it is almost never known exactly where one’s information is residing. Furthermore,
companies are not guaranteed to back up a consumers’ data. In fact, in the Google Docs terms of
service it states that if there are bugs or glitches in the system, there is no promise that it will be
fixed or that the users’ data will be restored, as well as stating that Google reserves the right to
disable a user’s account without providing him or her with a copy of the data stored on the
account (Arden, 2010, p. 56). As creating a code of ethics takes time after the development of a
new program, the code of ethics for cloud computing is still in progress, therefore mounting an
ever-growing list of ethical concerns surrounding the trend.
Security Concerns
Lack of security is of huge concern in the cloud. As stated above, there are a number of
people who have access to any given user’s data at any point in time. Extremely recently there
has been a massive leak of celebrity’s personal photos onto various social media sites, chat
rooms, and ultimately to the entire Internet. The ordeal began on August 31, 2014, when a
collection of approximately 200 personal celebrity photos, many of which contained nudity and
the majority of which were women, were released onto the image-board 4chan. The source of
the images is believed by many to be a breach of Apple’s iCloud suite (“2014 celebrity photo
leaks,” 2014). The leak led many to question the security of not only Apple’s cloud systems, but
cloud computing in general.
In the settlement Author’s Guild, Inc. v. Google, Inc., the initial agreement of which was
reached in 2009 (“Authors Guild v. Google,” 2014), commotion was caused when Google
specified only what data would be gathered, not how or where said data could be shared. The
specific fears raised in that case were in regards to a user’s reading history being used against
them in a court of law or in order for law enforcement to obtain a search warrant (Denny, 2010,


p. 238). The concerns of the people in that case are only a reflection of the overarching
apprehension towards cloud-based computing: a startling lack of privacy and security.
Social Concerns
The primary social concern related to cloud computing is social networking. Social
media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube are all examples of cloud-based
networks (Bianco, 2009, p. 303). Concerns circulate amongst older generations, concerned for
their children and grandchildren growing up in a world where nearly all of their information,
from birth, is accessible to the entire world via the Internet. Again, lack of privacy is the focus
of concern. “When your privacy is protected, you are free to choose how much of your sensitive
information to expose, to whom you will expose it, and, in some cases, how others can use that
information” (Payton & Claypoole, 2014, p. 3). Many fear the exposure of their “private”
information to criminals, stalkers, companies, and the government. Mothers are persecuted for
posting images of breastfeeding on Facebook, citizen journalists are punished for articles posted
online, and many other people suffer legal consequences due to something they deemed innocent
which was posted on the Internet (Bianco, 2009, pp. 304-05).
Conclusion: The Future of the Cloud
As shown through the research, there are many glitches in cloud-based systems that need
to be fixed. The potential of hybrid clouds as a more secure method of Internet storage suggests
a safer future in cloud computing. There are marketing approaches to be considered for both
older and younger generations, and ultimately the possibility of running out of storage.
However, the development of cloud-based computing is only beginning. Already there are
prototypes for trusted cloud computing platforms (TCCP) (Santos, Gummadi, & Rodrigues, p.
5), and the future of cloud computing is full of potential.


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