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Cloud Computing & Privacy: Pew Report Says Many Cloud Computing Users Unaware of Privacy Concerns

Many users may lack a full understanding of possible consequences of storing personal data online

“Even as large numbers of users turn to ‘cloud computing’ applications, many may lack a full understanding of possible consequences of storing personal data online,” said John B. Horrigan, Associate Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and author a recent report, "Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services," based on a survey of 2,251 adults.

Some 69% of online Americans use webmail services, store data online, or use software programs such as word processing applications whose functionality is located on the web, according to Horrigan's report.

Online users who take advantage of “cloud” applications say they like the convenience of having access to data and applications from any Web-connected device. At the same time, however, they express high levels of concerns about storing personal data online when presented with scenarios about possible uses of their data by companies providing cloud services.

“These findings give consumers, the technology community, and policymakers a chance to discuss the trade offs between convenience and privacy and figure out where there are needs for education to improve public understanding,” Horrigan notes.

Below is a rundown of the share of internet users who have done a select set of online activities that involve storing data online or accessing applications in cyberspace:

  • 56% of internet users use webmail services such as Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo! Mail.
  • 34% store personal photos online.
  • 29% use online applications such as Google Documents or Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • 7% store personal videos online.
  • 5% pay to store computer files online.
  • 5% back up hard drive to an online site.
  • Overall, 69% of online users have done at least one of these six activities, with 40% of internet users having done at least two of them.

    Convenience and flexibility are the watchwords for those who engage in at least one of the cloud computing activities listed above:

  • 51% of internet users who have done a cloud computing activity say a major reason they do this is that it is easy and convenient.
  • 41% of cloud users say a major reason they use these applications is that they like being able to access their data from whatever computer they are using.
  • 39% cite the ease of sharing information as a major reason they use applications in cyberspace or store data there.
  • At the same time, users report high levels of concern when presented with scenarios in which companies may put their data to uses of which they may not be aware.

  • 90% of cloud application users say they would be very concerned if the company at which their data were stored sold it to another party.
  • 80% say they would be very concerned if companies used their photos or other data in marketing campaigns.
  • 68% of users of at least one of the six cloud applications say they would be very concerned if companies who provided these services analyzed their information and then displayed ads to them based on their actions.

  • The “cloud computing” data comes from a survey of 2,251 adults between April 8, 2008 and May 11, 2008. Some 1,553 respondents in the survey were internet users and the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for results based on internet users.

    The Pew Internet Project is a project of the Pew Research Center.


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