Who owns the data in network Clouds?

27th Sep 2010

Marshall Sponder and Cecilia Pineda Feret examine the types of data that exist in network Clouds and the issues arising from Cloud storage.

Is it our interest to store data in a cloud or not? After all, all data stored in a Cloud is usually backed up automatically saving us the trouble and we can access it from almost any workstation or device that has a network connection. But data in a Cloud can also be lost or stolen as happened with the Danger Sidekick last year. With more of our data residing in a Cloud than ever, our privacy and ownership rights to the data are unclear.    
We’ll look at three types of data often residing in Clouds including web analytics data logs, patent information and social media data (tweets, posts, likes, photos, applications, etc).
Who owns web analytics data stored in a Cloud?
If I were completely reliant on Google Analytics right now for my business, I'd be questioning who really owns my analytics data? Google? Me? Or my site visitors?
Every time we use Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture, WebTrends on Demand or Coremetrics (to name a few of the better known analytics platforms) we rely on security and privacy polices without often knowing what they are.  
When analytics vendors are acquired by another company stored data may be made less or more secure depending on how security measures are implemented by the new owners. We need to know the policies around data usage, data security and availability, data retention and data access to answer the questions above.
Who owns patent information stored in a Cloud?
Patent information can become compromised when it lives in a Cloud according to Nolan Goldberg, a patent and trade litigation attorney based in New York. Nolan questioned if the owner of a patent fully owns it when it is stored in a Cloud. "It may seem to be an easy question. You own it - but do you, completely?"
"There's an external exposure that you wouldn't have, but for the fact that you're using a cloud service," Goldberg said. "So is it a half a percent increase in risk? Is it a 2% increase in risk? And do we care, right? But, when you're figuring out the bigger question - why do I move to the cloud? - if the answer is to save money, are you really going to save money if you're trading a little bit of IT costs up front for a huge legal bill down the road?"  
 In this case it may be more risky down the line to leave patented data in a cloud than store it somewhere private but with the possibility of data loss.
Who owns social media data stored in a Cloud?
According to CNET, Geo Location services that Google, Facebook and Foursquare use will reach their full potential by storing it in a Cloud. 
"… Location-based applications will reach their potential through cloud computing. People have been talking about the potential of apps that understand place almost since cell phones went mainstream. However, it's the intersection of more precise sensors on the client (GPS augmenting cell signal triangulation) and easily-consumable cloud-based applications that can mash up that data with geographical databases and the data from other users of a service that are moving apps about 'place' into the mainstream."
Also, Google Accounts houses a collection of our data, perhaps the largest swath of information about an individual in one place and all of that is in Google’s Cloud. While more and more of our lives as reflected by social media lives in a cloud, we may be the owners of none of it (for example, Facebook owns all the data in Facebook).
Is our data less secure because it lives in a Cloud?
Some, like Steve Rubel, feel like a privacy 9/11 looms before us.
The risk of a Privacy 9/11 - a cataclysmic event that exposes the private information of millions of people - can be prevented if we act. Privacy, like terrorism, is something many don't think about until they have to. Some are doing an exemplary job of showing people just how their data is being used. Others - marketers included - need to go to the same lengths.
Right now we have more questions than answers - and it may take several years before we know who owns the data in network Clouds.  
Marshall Sponder is the founder of, an industry blog about Web Analytics, Social Media and Search Marketing. He also writes a monthly column for on helping businesses to leverage online marketing technologies successfully in a challenging economy. Marshall maintains his own Analytics Consultancy, Now-Seo, working with small to large marketing agencies. He is also producing NY DataStories , events offering networking and analysis of business metrics. Follow him on Twitter: @webmetricsguru
Cecilia Pineda Feret is an Online Marketing and Community Strategist at Accent Resources Online Presence Development where she provides online and social media strategy and creates content and engagement for entities such as Havana Central and She also chairs the Social Media Committee for Columbia Business School Alumni Club of New York as well as co-producing NY DataStories. Find her blog: and follow her on Twitter: @cecipf  

Replies (4)

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By thumbsr5
29th Sep 2010 09:46

This sounds like a storm in a tea-cup. Firstly, like all ownership there is an element of trust. Secondly a cloud is basically a large network, in the sky. Security is paramount, yet like all networks there is a limit to what files any individual can gain access to, there are different levels of access. This sounds like a Y2K scare, the cloud is not intelligent, we know that  much memory will take longer to find files and longer to work out where to store, this fact alone should make hacking labrynthian, but it also renders the right code for the right file even more imperitive, otherwise the cloud becomes a pure waste of time and money.  My imaginary picture of this cloud is the description of space given in Dune by Frank Herbert, the folding of space and time to access more distant concepts, this would mean we can all carry a single access, remote cloud in our pockets.   

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By vincentholter
29th Sep 2010 13:48

I agree: there probably is no cause for concern. Having said that, while this is still a quite opaque area, there is bound to be confusion and concern and the ball is in the court of the cloud vendors to ensure that this is rectified or else businesses will simply be scared off from putting data in the cloud. Come on vendors, prove to us that we shouldn't be scared of the cloud!!!!

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By its_me
06th Dec 2011 10:55

Many organizations opt for enterprise private cloud. But it is extremely important to clear certain issues. Since such massive amount of important data is stored; there has to be good security arrangements made. There should not be any kind of misuse of data.

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By michaeldavis
11th Jan 2012 19:54

It is definitely a very ambiguous area we're moving into with the growth of storing data online whether it be as simple as uploading photos to facebook, or installing and uploading our files to be hosted at one of the online storage company servers. We live in a very interesting time and when we pay to use another company's resources to generate something for ourselves then I believe it falls under the intellectual property laws. Let's say you are a consultant and are asked by a company to provide your expertise on a project - The consultant is paid to provide expertise knowledge, but has no ultimate right on what the company does with the knowledge despite being the key to unlocking what the company does. The company has paid for the services and have generated a transaction that legally dissolves any obligation to you as the consultant. Google Analytics is a different story because they provide a service for no nominal fee - but what you are providing to them is data on your website, and should justify a trade... we'll see how this turns out in the future!

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