Cloud and legalities

Just come off a Bright Talk webinar, part of a day on issues around Cloud. Miranda Mowbray of HP Labs, Bristol, gave a comprehensive round-up of legal issues which might arise through organisations’ use of externally-sourced Cloud services (everything from basic infrastructure like EC2 up to full-featured applications such as Sherlock Holmes, apparently, would recognise the issues from Baskerville Moor.

It reminded me of attending a conference in the early days of the Web, where I heard the first attempt to figure out what the regulatory issues might be for pharmaceutical companies, with our heavy and very country-specific regulatory issues to work through. As so often, we’ve been here before: legislation necessarily lags behind technology, and case law has not yet started to accumulate.

The recording is available on the Web and there’s a published paper too. So I won’t attempt to precis it here. Suffice it to say that the issues range from “Where’s my data held?” (and that includes my account and usage data as well as the data I’m handling in the cloud) to “What happens if …” questions (the service goes down, the provider goes out of business, and much more). In particular, beware: most terms and conditions mean that it’s the user, not the provider, who normally carries the responsibility for continuity of service and for backup.

A great deal was packed into thirtyfive minutes and although Miranda Mowbray is not a lawyer (so the advice, of course, is “If in doubt, consult one!”) she clearly has a good grasp of the issues that may well arise.

Something to reference in the end-user guide on “Signing up for web-based IT” which I’m working on. Watch out too for a posting here in a day or two about analysis of “Distribution characteristics” for business and business applications, a piece of work I did many years ago which is highly relevant to today’s developing cloud environments.

• Cloud Computing and the Law, BrightTalk webcast, 30 Sep 2009
• Miranda Mowbray’s home page at HP Labs
• The Fog over the Grimpen Mire: Cloud Computing and the Law. Mowbray, M., SCRIPTed Journal of Law, Technology and Society vol 6 issue 1 (April 2009) pp.132-146 (the link is directly to a PDF of the document)

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