Paying for “Free” Cloud Services

Like many, I have to admit that I’m often attracted to “free” cloud services, programs, and software. Who wouldn’t want to save money where they can – especially when the service offered seems virtually the same as what others are paying their hard earned money for. Well, like everything in this world, there always seems to be a trade-off, doesn’t there?

The Journal’s 12/4/12 article The Price of Free Cloud Resources, highlights the positives and negatives of free cloud resources. There are so many cloud-based resources that either are entirely free, or are free but offer a less-robust version of a for-fee resource. Either way, free resources are tempting, both to the average user as well as to libraries, media centers, and schools. Who wouldn’t want to save money where they can, especially now, when many budgets are so dramatically reduced? Additionally, many cloud-based resources are cutting-edge, new, exciting, and flexible! It’s hard not to be attracted and drawn to that.

But with free, comes a catch… For cloud-based resources the catch or the “payment” for the service is often privacy and personal data. According to Jim Siegl, Chair of the Consortium of School Networking, “Data is the most common (yet invisible) fee extracted from users by companies that make search engines, e-mail, and other cloud computing resources accessible to schools.” As schools (or individuals) enter into agreements with a cloud-based resource, they may be required to sign and agree to a contract. It is crucial that the person reading and signing that contract understands the language and the agreement they’re entering into — and what it means to their school and their students (or patrons in the case of a library). However, because cloud computing is fairly new, Siegl believes that federal regulations are about twelve years behind in responding to cloud computing and related privacy concerns. privacy2So what are schools and individuals to do? Read! And read carefully! Understand what you’re reading, ask questions if need be. Research it! (This could be a natural fit for librarians….). In schools and at libraries, individuals responsible for technology services need to carefully analyze the agreements they’re entering into. Additionally, technology specialists (or those that sign the agreements) should consider providing opportunities to inform other parties at their school or library about the privacy issues, and about the data that is being collected. For students, it’s important to remind them that what they do on the internet is not private. And that everything they do leaves a digital footprint, and can be tracked back to them.

Additionally, it’s important to know that even some for-fee resources gather data… Again, contracts must be carefully reviewed and privacy should always be of utmost concern. There will always be trade-offs, but we have to be certain the trade-off is truly worth it, and that the cloud-based service meets our basic privacy requirements (whatever they may be depending upon your library, your school, or your personal wishes).

Interested in reading more on this important topic? Checkout the following links to get started…

Cyber Security for the Digital District from the Consortium for School Networking: Tools and Resources

Privacy Technical Assistance Center: Frequently Asked Questions – Cloud Computing

Scholastic Article: Demystifying Cloud