Previously, we’ve discussed the privacy and security questions surrounding cloud computing services. (“Cloud computing” is where you upload, store and access your data at an online service owned or operated by others. Microsoft, Apple and many others offer these services.) Now, the New York Times reports on questions from European governments about the privacy of cloud computing:
BERLIN — Providers of cloud services in Europe are having problems selling to some of their biggest potential customers: national governments.
Concerns that data collected by government agencies could ultimately be sold to third parties has prompted some entities to postpone efforts to move their databases to the cloud, making Europe a far less promising market for such services than the United States.
In October, the House of Lords in Britain delayed a plan to let government agencies combine their databases to improve voter registration rolls. Some had already moved data to the cloud, and mixing information with the cloud-based databases was considered too risky. […]
The fears may be well-founded. According to SafeGov, a Washington-based group that advises governments on cloud services, the privacy policies of companies like Microsoft and Google do not precisely lay out how they would protect government data from being sifted for information on individuals, which is particularly valuable to advertisers and other marketers.
SafeGov is urging both companies to pledge publicly not to mine government data and to include clauses binding them to that promise in their contracts. Microsoft and Google, in statements, insist they have done so, but questions persist. […]
In September, the Norwegian data protection regulator, Datatilsynet, allowed two cities, Narvik and Moss, to use Google Apps and Microsoft’s Office 365, but only if the companies stipulated they would refrain from mining data. The towns must also arrange independent audits to ensure that the information is handled properly.
In the United States, a range of American companies, including Lockheed Martin, I.B.M., Oracle, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Google, Amazon.com and Microsoft, are now serving government agencies.