Cloud service provider code will remain voluntary: Aust govt

It is 'inappropriate' to regulate the cloud services market at this stage, and there are concerns that cloud regulation could stifle innovation and duplicate existing consumer protections, according to the Australian government.

The Australian government has moved to assure cloud service providers that a new voluntary consumer protection code being developed is not a precursor to mandatory industry regulation.

Speaking in caretaker capacity at an Australian Computer Society (ACS) event to debate aspects of the new Cloud Computing Consumer Protocol, Keith Besgrove, first assistant secretary, digital services at the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), said that any new cloud rules would remain voluntary.

"Secondly, the government has indicated that it does not intend to regulate cloud services at the sector level," he said. "Some people have interpreted the discussions we are having today as a precursor to regulation. That is certainly not our intention.

"We are exploring the potential need for, and value in, some form of — you could call it industry self-regulation, but it is really just a voluntary attestation of the sorts of things which providers might sign onto."

According to Besgrove, it is the government's view that it would be inappropriate to regulate the cloud services market at present due to cloud being an emerging delivery platform, which would likely be stifled by sector-specific regulation.

In addition, there was already whole-of-economy regulation that applies to cloud services, including the new National Privacy Principles, elements within the Telecommunications Act, and also Australian consumer law.

"I want to emphasise that the idea [for a cloud protocol] was put forward to us from industry; we did not dream this up," he said.

"We are calling it a protocol, because those of you who are familiar with the Telecommunications Act would be aware that the word 'code' has a particular non-voluntary meaning ... so we wanted to try to get away from that."

The clarification on the new cloud rules comes amid fierce opposition from major cloud services providers such as Google, Microsoft, and Telstra to any mandatory regulations.

Google in its submission said that imposing a "highly prescriptive protocol" would be inappropriate, given the dynamism of the IT industry. Further, the company argued that Australia's tech startups could be hurt by the protocol.

"The introduction of unnecessary self-regulation could impede market operation and curtail both the development of Australian internet computing providers and the dynamics of Australian businesses accessing important global services," Google's submission says.

Despite such criticism, Besgrove said that feedback to the Australian government's Cloud Strategy , released in July, has indicated that there is a desire for government to play a role in the cloud services provision sector.

"Trust and confidence was identified as a key barrier to greater cloud adoption, so it is recognised that government may have a role in promoting trust and confidence [in cloud] ..." he said.

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