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A recent New York Times article, ‘Privacy Fades in Facebook Era‘, started with “As much as it pains me to say this: privacy is on its deathbed”. The article details the ease in which the author traces the identity of a remote stranger. This stranger used only their first name when posting comments on some of the author’s photos. As the author said, ‘Creepy, right?”

Today, it is actually news when you learn that you can actually have more online privacy than previously thought. Online privacy is particularly relevant as people start using multiple mobile devices on a daily basis to generate content such as photos, videos and data and then store this data and media in the cloud for easy access across devices. As this data is stored in the cloud, people may naturally think that they have few options to preserve their privacy. But the good news is that help is on the way.

To understand the significance of privacy in the cloud, consider that the current generation of personal clouds is primarily offered by companies that do fully intend to mine your personal data for their financial gain. These include offerings such as Apple iCloud, Google cloud services, Facebook and Amazon. They are predicated on making it easy for people to wirelessly store their data and content in their clouds, so they can directly mine it for advertising purposes, or indirectly to present tailored and relevant offers. While these cloud services make it easy for users to get started by automatically storing data from a raft of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, their primary motivation is to lock people into using their specific cloud service so they can gain leverage over users.

This leverage comes in the form of the high ‘switching cost’ that customers face once they have stored a significant amount of content in a system. Think about it. Once you have traversed the non-trivial learning curve for a cloud service, and figured out how to make it work with your mobile devices, how likely are you to switch? For most people, this is highly unlikely. The industry term for this is stickiness.

So what are the alternatives? There are some private personal clouds on the horizon that will soon be available. They are based on the premise that your data is yours, not a large entity focused on leveraging your data for their profits. Unlike the current slate of cloud services, with private personal clouds, the data and content stored is private, in contrast to public clouds. In private clouds, your data is not only completely inaccessible to anyone but you or your trusted delegates, it is also not analyzed by invisible algorithms seeking patterns or data aggregated for anonymous trends.

What would motivate some companies to offer private clouds? Simple. The number one obstacle for people storing data in the cloud is concern and fear of privacy and security breaches. A recent Funambol user survey found that privacy and security are the top reasons people are not using personal clouds. These findings are consistent with other market research and just common sense. Who feels comfortable storing sensitive data on a publicly accessible system—even if we want to believe that the system is secure, such as Gmail or Facebook? It’s a social network, for sharing data that makes money from ads by mining your data. Facebook often changes its privacy policy to suit their latest needs. Who’s to say that your data and content that you thought was private and secure today may not be tomorrow?

The market opportunity for companies to offer private personal clouds is enormous. Think of the private personal cloud as a safety deposit box in a bank, only it is online. Your valued digital data and content, such as prized family photos, documents, and other digital keepsakes, are encrypted and backed up remotely. The only potential undesired access to this information is government intervention (by subpoena, at least in the U.S.), which is required by law to ensure public safety.

What are these private personal clouds and how can you access one? Several mobile operators, device manufacturers and other mobile service providers will launch private personal clouds shortly. They are not ready to disclose them yet, but these private personal clouds will provide people with the best of both worlds: the simplicity of the cloud with the privacy and security people want. Not only will a new category of private personal clouds be created, they will also facilitate ‘private sharing’. Stay tuned.

Hal Steger Hal Steger is Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Funambol, the leading white-label personal cloud solution for mobile phones and connected devices, powered by open source. Hal has more than 20 years of marketing and product management experience at high-growth, innovative global    software companies. Prior to Funambol, he was responsible for worldwide marketing at Scalix, a leading provider of open systems messaging solutions  and was VP Marketing of Rubric, where he positioned the company as the leader of the new category of Marketing Automation solutions. Rubric was acquired for $370M. Prior to Rubric, Hal held product management and product marketing positions at OracleUniface/Compuware, and other high profile Silicon Valley companies.

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