Our friend Jonathan Zittrain’s piece in today’s New York Times entitled “Lost in the Cloud”, raises pertinent and important privacy and competition issues about cloud computing. His main focus is on the concerns for individuals and the ability of companies to innovate if they are subject to the guidelines of the cloud operators. The great irony may be that guidelines for privacy and security enforced by cloud operators may be exactly what is needed to provide individuals with a trusting experience. But, as Zittrain discusses in his book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It, navigating the decisions that help protect users without stopping innovation is key to the future of the internet. Last week’s action by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada against Facebook for not doing enough to enforce rules over the application developers would use in its platform is an example of how government will be seeking to play a role in these decisions.
We would add to Professor Zittrain’s analysis a discussion of how business-to-business cloud computing has the real potential to enable innovation that would otherwise be impossible because of how it can reduce costs for many businesses, improve service delivery and promote innovation because of the economies of scale. Countless business models and services will exist only if they have the capability to make use of sophisticated programs and infrastructure that can serve millions of users at low cost
The contracts that sophisticated businesses are putting in place with major providers of cloud computing services, like IBM, address many of the concerns about privacy, security and intellectual property rights, as well as the location of services (so as to reduce the risk of foreign government tampering with private information). But as Zittrain has been advocating, and as remarks from Julius Genachowski reported today make clear, the success of the interaction between the innovators at the edge and the providers of the platforms of the future will be be essential to the future of privacy, security and the vitality of the internet.