Last week we were scared twice: Google reads our emails and with Microsoft Office365, users can be monitored. I was surprised that apparently there are companies that let people read e-mails instead of automatically browsing through content… but that’s beside the point here. More important is the recurring insight that whoever has data, uses it.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be bad or wrong, as long as you, as data owner, are OK with it. But what about companies, administrations, schools or universities where employees do not own their data? In these institutions, I often see that the knowledge and experience of IT departments in this area is not used to protect employees and the knowledge of the institution.
I don’t think it’s wise to close oneself off from modern technologies out of fear. However, I do think that an organization’s IT experts must be expected to describe potential risks in a way that allows business departments to make meaningful decisions. As far as the public cloud is concerned, I always give our partners and customers the following three points to think about:
1. Administrators Can Access Your Data
When I completed my school internship at the age of 14 at a bank and the employees had no more files for me to sort, they told me that I could leaf through the index cards and search for the accounts of my classmates. I didn’t do this because it seemed not only useless to me but also wrong. That was as wrong then as it is today. The difference is that apparently today, people don’t expect it is technically possible for other people to read your information. Cough. But of course, they can. Sometimes they’re even legally required to.
Then there is a difference between administrators who work for your own organization – who have to show unlimited loyalty to the business they work for – and administrators who work for public cloud providers. Administrators you don’t know and are not obliged to show any loyalty to you. How much trust are you willing to give them?
2. Data Will Be Used
The statement “why should anyone benefit from my data?“ is heard quite often in business and administration settings. And although in some situations the fear of what can happen to your data is justified, sometimes having your data in the public cloud is without risks.
And actually, it is usually not about the data in a text document or the content of an e-mail. It’s about metadata used to train Artificial Intelligence (AI). And of course, the more data, the smarter the AI. So in these cases, at a minimum, you contribute to the business model of others.
An example plucked out of the air but still characteristic of data used to train AI: Google Autocorrect. Do you really want Google’s Autocorrect to propose the technical term for a product developed by your own company to Google Search users worldwide? It becomes clearer and more comprehensive in the following point…
3. Nothing Is For Free: In The Public Cloud You Can Become The Product
Satya Nadella in this video states: “As you use Office365, you are creating this Microsoft Graph asset. It captures the knowledge of your people, the relationships with other people inside and outside the organization […] That is a very rich data set that you can have to create additional value inside your organization” – really only in your own organization? Because it seems to me that Microsoft benefits too. The picture was taken from LinkedIn, (and belonging to Microsoft) from minute 1:18 speaks volumes. Who do you think knows best which Excel guru will add the smartest formulas in your company’s spreadsheets? Are you scared of head-hunters buying a hidden dataset pointing them to this valuable colleague of you?
And Now What?
There are circumstances where all these points do not play a role. For example, personally, I don’t care if my colleagues navigate on business trips with OpenStreetMap, Google Maps, Waze or whatever. We visit companies and their addresses are known anyway. If we help to predict traffic jams better with our travel activities, then that is good – so why not?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use cloud services. And I certainly won’t say that the providers of public clouds are evil. All I want is for decisions about IT systems to be made more consciously and sustainable. After all, as Satya Nadella says in the video: “The datasets represent the knowledge of our colleagues and their relationships with other colleagues inside and outside our organization – this is a very rich dataset”.