Berners-Lee: Personal clouds could offset privacy risks

By setting up cloud-based storage for their own data, people could control better how much of their information is publicly available to businesses that 'scrape' web services, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has suggested

People could end up setting up personal cloud storage to control the information found online about themselves, world wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has suggested.

Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has suggested people could set up cloud-based storage to safeguard their privacy online.

Companies are increasingly using publicly available data harvested from sites such as Facebook and Twitter to populate databases with customer and client information. This could backfire both for social-networking sites and businesses, Berners-Lee said on Thursday.

"They have alienated some customers, clearly, already," Berners-Lee told ZDNet UK at the RSA Conference in London. "We are in the early stages of understanding how people can control their data."

"At the moment [people] have, to a certain extent, the worst of both worlds, in that they have very little control of their data. But also they have very little use of their data, because their data is limited in 'silos'," he added.

Berners-Lee said that one way for people to safeguard their internet privacy could be to set up their own cloud-based storage for their personal data, which they could then deliver to social-networking sites as they wanted.

"One direction to go is to have stores of data which are run by the users. So have user-owned pieces of cloud or pieces... of home computing equipment which draw data and store it on behalf of the user completely," he said. "They operate as user agents, then the applications out there on the internet access that. But the user has control over which applications and which organisations use it."

In addition, businesses should develop an ethos about what social networking-derived information can be used and for what purposes, he said. This is true even if the companies have got the data "by a very circuitous route", Berners-Lee added., like several other companies, has a number of products that pool data from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Peter Coffee, Salesforce's director of platform research, told ZDNet UK in September that privacy needs a consensus, while Salesforce chief Marc Benioff said ultimately, the market will decide people's tolerance to data use by businesses.

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