Who owns your cloud-based data? (Hint: It might not be you)

My Google Behavioral Profile
Image by JTones via Flickr

Tanya Forsheit at the Information Law Group blog authored a lengthy and fascinating series on the legal implications of cloud computing, but one particular passage caught my eye:

Under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may serve on any other party a request within the scope of Rule 26(b): (1) to produce and permit the requesting party or its representative to inspect, copy, test, or sample the following items in the responding party’s possession, custody, or control.  Who has control of data in the cloud?

Translated from legalese, this means that if a cloud-based data storage company is sued, it can be compelled to hand over any data in its “possession, custody, or control.” Does that mean Google can be compelled to hand over your Gmail account contents to a plaintiff, even if that plaintiff isn’t you? More simply, does Google own your Gmail data, or do you? The answer lies in how your EULA is worded.

Given Google’s “you ain’t got no privacy” stance and Yahoo’s willingness to sell your data to Uncle Sam, there’s a pretty clear legal policy from two of the bigger players in the game. If they own your data, that means they can decide when and how you access it. Right now, that access is fairly unfettered, but they could change it at their whim, at which point it will be you suing your own cloud-based data store for access to your own information. Personally, I’d have a third-party backup (or three) on standby, just in case.

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