Cloud computing takes hold despite privacy fears

Users of online e-mail, storage systems fear the sale of personal data without permission

As consumers flock to the cloud computing world to store photos online, back up hard drives or use Web-based e-mail, many harbor worries about the security of that personal data, according to a study released late last week from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

The study found that 69% of online users use Web e-mail services, store data online or use Web-based applications like Google Docs.

Breaking cloud computing use down further, the survey found the following:

  • 56% of online users use Web e-mail services like Hotmail or Gmail.
  • 34% store photos online.
  • 29% use online applications like Google Docs or Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • 7% store personal videos online.
  • 5% store computer files online.
  • 5% back up hard drives online.

More than half (51%) of the active cloud computing users say they turned to the technology because it's easy and convenient, while 41% said they like being able to access their data from multiple computers.

Despite those advantages, the survey found the following:

  • 90% of cloud application users fear the sale of their personal data.
  • 80% are concerned that their photos or other data may be used in marketing campaigns.
  • 68% do not want companies to display specific ads based on an analysis of their online actions.

"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 Horrigan, associate director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and author of the report, in a statement. "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."

Pew surveyed 2,251 adults in April and May; of those, 1,553 were Internet users.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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