Organisations have been gathering our personal information in remote datacentres for decades. But combine the social web, cloud storage and cheap computing power and it's a whole new ball game.
Despite the media hype, the privacy risk isn't so much what we might reveal to fellow Facebook users, but the possibilities for large-scale data mining. There's plenty of it going on without our knowledge — or even the knowledge of the websites we visit.
On Patch Monday this week, our guest is Kevin Shaw, president of the International Association of Privacy Professionals Australia and New Zealand (iappANZ). In a wide-ranging conversation we discuss the data mining done by aggregators such as ChoicePoint, LexisNexis and Acxiom; the risk that the detailed personal profiles they create could be used or misused in the name of "national security"; the much-maligned tracking cookie; and even newer tricks like Client-less Device Identification (CDI).
While almost every commercial website uses tracking cookies and other techniques, a recent study by Krux Digital found that nearly a third of the tracking tools on 50 popular US websites were installed by third-party companies without the host site's knowledge or permission. Loading just one page from those sites installed or updated, on average, 10 trackers on users' computers.
Businesses and regulators are only beginning to understand the cloud's privacy implications, according to Shaw. While the right questions are starting to be asked and contracts are being put into place, auditing is a problem, just as ZDNet Australia highlighted in last month's feature, "Cloud security? Better get a lawyer, son!"
The privacy challenges of cloud computing will also be the topic of the iappANZ's annual conference, "Silver Lining: The Privacy Umbrella of Cloud Computing", to be held in Sydney on 30 November. Speakers include ethical information management pioneer Dr Larry Ponemon of Ponemon Institute, Australia's Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim and Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) chair Colin Jacobs.
As usual, Patch Monday includes Stilgherrian's random look at the week's IT news.
To leave an audio comment for Patch Monday, Skype to stilgherrian, or phone Sydney 02 8011 3733.
Running time: 27 minutes, 11 seconds