There is an increase in the use of Internet technologies and as a result of this cloud computing has shown to be rapidly developing. Cloud Computing is a phrase that is commonly used to describe a variety of computing concepts that consists a large number of computers associated through real time communication network such as the internet. This document explores the usefulness of cloud computing outlining the application areas and examples whilst acknowledging the ethical issues surrounding Cloud Computing.


According to Dikaiakos et al (2009), in cloud computing there has been a recent development in IT that shift s computing and data away from desktop and laptops into large data centres. This implies that various types of services, software and applications are carried out as services through the internet along with the actual cloud infrastructure. Won (2009) described further that an individual using a computer will be able to use their files, programmes, data and other services from a web browser through the internet that is hosted by other service providers. However, from a broader perspective Gartner (2009) defined Cloud Computing as ‘‘a style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies’’.

Defining features

One of the defining features of Cloud Computing is resource/storage virtualization. The resources and services are delivered to users and/or organizations through the Internet from resource clouds where almost all information and tools are preserved.  The resources can be added or removed depending on the changes in needs. However, the storage of data can be in various locations though different servers around the world that possibly could be owned and managed by different businesses. From a business point of view, cloud computing allows the business to shift from product business to service orientated business.

Another defining feature of Cloud Computing is Scalability, elasticity, efficiency of resource sharing and usage optimizing/optimized by usage. Resources from the service provider are regarded to be used with maximum efficiency and provide various needs for different parties at the same time as they are shared with other organizations. However, individuals or organizations may be unaware of where the information or services are coming from or where their information is preserved.

The third defining feature of Cloud Computing is accessibility, ease of usage, fast information sharing, delivery and control. In many scenarios it has clearly been emphasised on the ease of using cloud services. Cloud services have considered being smooth and rapid with very fast and optimized connections. As the user will not have to install anything on their own computer, it is considered that the user will have the suitable version of the software and service. This then eliminates the issue of having incompatible products and services on the computer. However, if the system or service updates automatically, then the service could appear different every time an individual uses it.

History of the technology

During the sixties, the history of cloud computing was acknowledged by Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider. According to Licklider, the concept of cloud computing was that it delivers computing resources to various locations through a global network. Licklider was responsible for the development of ARPANET. During the 1960’s another pioneering researcher of cloud computing is John McCarthy and argued that in the near future computation may be organized as a public utility like electricity or water. From the 1960’s, Cloud Computing has been developing and from the 1990’s onwards it was considered to also have been developed further to serve the masses. The progression of Cloud Computing has gone through various phases including gird and utility computing, application service provision (ASP), and software as a service (SAAS) (Mohammed 2009, Dikaiakos et al 2009).


An example where cloud computing is made use of is in photographic storage. Cloud based service business has shown to be rapidly increasing along with major expectations that development will continue during the next couple of years. Although there is the existence of consumer targeted services such as Facebook, Flickr and email services, it has also been acknowledged that professional applications are also developing further (Fenn et.al. 2009).

Relation to other technologies

In relation to other technologies, cloud computing is considered to be part of internet related activity that is in the present or in the future. Therefore, cloud computing is acknowledged to be one of the enabling technologies for Ambient Intelligence and Future Internet.

Application areas and examples of Cloud Computing

A variety of application areas and their examples of Cloud Computing have clearly been acknowledged. This further suggests that all the services the individual uses through the internet could be located in a cloud.

1. Webmail:-Webmail is recognised as an example of Cloud Computing. The use of computers is increasing and as a result of this individuals use their webmail’s to retrieve and send information. Users can access their webmail from anywhere around the world as long as they know the web address of the webmail service as there is no need to know the name of the server or an IP address. One of the responsibilities of the webmail provider is to ensure that there is sufficient disk space and processing power to allow their customers to store and receive their mail on request.

[1] http://www.bestpricecomputers.co.uk/glossary/cloud-computing.htm

2. Smart Shopping:-“A woman is walking down the street of her local town centre. The RFID tag in her jacket is contacted by a local reader. The reader sends the tag’s data to a localization service. The localization service sends this data to a meta-CRM-system that handles consumer related data for that particular area. The CRM system recognizes the consumer, looks up her preferences and offers her via an SMS to her mobile phone – a 20% SALE reduction a nearby shop, if she orders immediately (via WAP/mobile phone), which she does after having had a look at the item in the shop. The payment is processed by a payment service provider, who knows the consumer’s details who charges her credit card. For security purposes, an alert is sent (via a web service) to a credit card clearance agency, who checks the credit card number against recent fraud. Unfortunately, there has been a fraudulent action using this credit card, so the agency informs the police (again via web service). The police management system accesses the location service to get the location of the consumer and sends two policemen from the closest office to speak to the consumer.” (The Think-Trust project).

3. Nomadic Business Organisation:-“A network of business people is spread across the world, but they are working as if they were one company. They do not have any specific physical office space and meetings are held by using online conferencing tools provided by the Cloud. They use on-line storage for documents, a service-based customer relationship management (CRM) system, and service-based financial performance management software.  The membership of the network is highly dynamic, i.e. people join and leave on a very short-notice basis. The software components are used by this organization via the Cloud, i.e. without knowing where these services actually run. So not only are the consumers of the services “nomadic”, but the services that this organization consumes have no physical location themselves either.” (The Think-Trust project).

4.    Cloud-delivered environments being used within various organizations the federal government

“The Air Force deployed MyBase, a 3-D virtual recruiting and training platform deployed in Second Life in December, 2008. It was made available to the public, and includes the ability to model base configurations, deploy on-line conferences, and welcome civilians and soldiers to its representation of real physical bases. Similarly, the National Guard has developed U.S. Nexus to provide the same capabilities and is scheduled be deployed in November, 2009”….“Second Life figures in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mission of sharing real-life health alerts through avatars in the on-line community. It is also finding that its presence is felt through outreach and community building”…..“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) NOAA Virtual World allows the agency to share its laboratories, classes, research discussions, and conference spaces with students, citizens, policymakers, and scientists worldwide. A key initiative is this environment’s ability to test data virtualization, or collaborative geographic information systems” (Paquette et al 2010, p.248).

5:- Medical practice/patient information sharing:- “Sharing patient data, particularly medical images, across the multiple institutions from which patients receive health care services is a problem for which no good solution currently exists. Some institutions provide images and reports on portable media such as compact discs, while some continue to print film. Multisite institutions with business relationships may invest in network connections and virtual private networks to perform electronic data transfers. Each of these approaches is problematic and costly and adversely affects the quality of care. In a cloud computing environment, patients’ images and other medical data could be stored in a virtual generic archive and accessed by health care providers as needed through the cloud. This could facilitate the sharing of data and significantly reduce local storage requirements.” (Andriole & Khorasani 2010).

Critical Issues concerning Cloud Computing

A clear majority of the sources identify trust and reliability as the main critical issues concerning Cloud Computing applications. As a result of this, questions are raised regarding about data ownership and security, quality of service or service agreement for Cloud Computing. An example of this is where one might be forced by agreement to give away one’s ownership of data if utilizing free cloud services. Likewise, the duration of agreement could possibly be defined as being eternal or difficult to break apart. Furthermore, a variety of ethical issues associated with cloud computing have been discussed below along with their implications.

Control and responsibility:- The loss of direct control could be an issue if something went wrong. Paquette (2010) described that there are risk associated with cloud computing including unauthorized access, data corruption, infrastructure failure, or unavailability/outing. Haeberlen (2010) argued that in any circumstance if something did not go accordingly it would be difficult to differentiate who has caused the problem and where there is no evidence it is not possible for the parties to hold each other responsible for the problem if a disagreement arises.

Problem of many hands:- Haeberlen (2010) claimed that as the responsibilities are shared between the customer and the provider of the service, neither of them are in a good position to solve such disputes which could arise. Hence, this may lead to ‘the problem of many hands’ which is regarded as an ethical issue. This situation arises when “in a complex chain of events or systems, many people will have had a share in an action that leads to undesirable consequences. As such many people will also have had the opportunity to prevent these consequences, and therefore no-one can be held responsible.” (Pieters 2009, p.2)

Self determination: – Cavoukian (2008) describesInformational self-determinationwhere individuals have the right to exercise personal control over the collection whilst having the authority to use and disclose their personal data by others. Self determination is highly challenged in situations where there is use of unlimited data sharing and storage between businesses. Hence, privacy issues are raised as a cause of concern along with putting the risk of confidence and trust in our evolving society (Cavoukian, 2008). Therefore, businesses that provide cloud computing services should provide the interests of the customers and users. This can be addressed by: “by being open and accountable about their data management practices, by seeking informed consent from individuals, and by providing them with credible access and redress mechanisms.” (Cavoukian 2008, p.90).

Accountability:- Personal data stored in a cloud should be handled carefully. Accountability ensures that data stored is managed properly. Haeberlen (2010) users of an accountable cloud are able to make sure whether the cloud is performing as agreed. Furthermore, Pearson (2009) described that information regarding how data is handled within the cloud as well as clear allocation of responsibility are important elements for the provision of accountability and transparency. With recorded proof these elements could help to clarify who is responsible when a problematic situation or dispute arises.

Additionally, Pearson (2009) claims that there is a possibility that tension between privacy and accountability could arise as accountability requires specific records of actions by its users in the cloud. Hence it is vitally essential to consider what is being recorded and who the record is being made available to.

Ownership:- Murley (2009) put forward that the off shoring of data raises the question of who owns the data a individual stores in the cloud and what can the providers of cloud services do with this information. Questions concerned with ownership also arise associated to infringements on copyrights. Nelson (2009) describes that allowing individuals to access unlimited computing storage and power, cloud services makes it more available to share copyrighted material through the internet.

Function Creep:- Function creep is another data which is stored in the cloud. Hence, data gathered for a specific reason could possibly be misused for unanticipated reasons. A clear example of this is a database that contains biometric data of citizens may be created for verification purposes which could be useful for crime investigations (Pieters, 2009). Function creep may become very dangerous when there is a reduced sight on what data is being used for.

Precautionary principle: – The precautionary principle was put forward by Pieters and Van Cleeff (2009) which is an approach to deal with risk and responsibility issues in cloud computing. Pieters and Van Cleeff (2009) strongly argue that due to de-perimetersition of organizations ethics of consequences does not satisfy as consequences may not be foreseeable, their desirability may not be unambiguously assessable, and they cannot be directly ascribed to actions of a single person or a single organisation.”(Pieters 2009, p.13). The precautionary principle helps to prevent harm form consequences that are unforeseeable without delaying progress and innovation altogether.

Privacy: – Majority of companies that provide cloud services gathers sensitive personal information that is then kept in data centres in countries around the world. A major issue with the development and acceptance of cloud computing raises the question of how companies will address privacy issues (Nelson, 2009). Van de Hoven (2008) argued that although the concept of privacy is important it is still difficult to address this issue. In general it aims to limit access to specific types of personal data and prevent persons to acquire and use information about other persons.

There is still an ongoing debate concerning moral justification of a right to privacy but the actual reach of privacy protection remains unclear (Van de Hoven, 2008). In circumstances such as personal data stored in a cloud, vagueness about privacy can be extremely dangerous. This is because as data is stored locally, control over the data is transferred to the service providers. As a result of this, consumers then need to trust the cloud provider that sensitive personal information will not be disclosed.

Nevertheless, different service providers have their own opinions on privacy which then leaves the customers unsure with which services provider she or he is dealing. In the cloud various services can highly become challenging for example a hosted application for one company can be built on a development framework of another. This further suggests that for the consumers it will not always remain clear from what they can expect from service providers in the cloud associated with issues on privacy (Van de Hoven, 2008).

Privacy across (cultural) borders:- There are various judgements on the issue of privacy which are further enhanced by cultural differences. Services and data-storage can be situated in various parts of the world. Therefore, users of cloud services will have to deal with the different cultures predominating certain locations.

Capurro (2005) describes further that privacy is affected by cultural differences.  Opposed to the Western orientation Eastern countries for example strongly highlights on the concept of community and “give privacy at least partly a negative connotation.”(p.46) “In a very general way we can say that the concept of privacy in the West is oriented towards the individual, while Eastern countries – and also other cultures like the African ones, for instance – stress the concept of community and give privacy at least partly a negative connotation.”(p.46). Moor (2004) argues that even though different cultures shares minimal sense of privacy, the lack of a internationally accepted rich sense increasingly prevents tough privacy protection on the internet.


In conclusion, although cloud computing is a comparatively recent phenomena it is developing and spreading rapidly.This document explored the usefulness of cloud computing outlining the application areas and examples whilst acknowledging the ethical issues surrounding Cloud Computing.


This document was developed by Vanita Patel on the basis of research undertaken in the ETICA project, www.eticaproject.eu.


Academic Publications:

Andriole, K. P., Khorasani. R. (2010). Cloud Computing: What Is It and Could It Be Useful? In Journal of the American College of Radiology. Vol. 7, No. 4, Pp. 252-254 (April 2010).

Capurro, R.(2005). Privacy. An intercultural perspective. In Ethics and Information Technology(2005) (7), P 37–47.

Cavoukian, A. (2008). Privacy in the clouds. In Identity in Information Society (1) (2008) p. 89-108

Dikaiakos, M. D., Katsaros, D., Mehra, P., Pallis, G., Vakali, A. (2009). Cloud Computing: Distributed Internet Computing for IT and Scientific Research.  In IEEE Internet Computing, Vol. 13, No. 5, Pp. 10-13, September/October, 2009.

Haeberlen, A. (2010). A case for the accountable cloud. SIGOPS Oper. Syst. Rev. 44, 2 (Apr. 2010),  52-57. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1773912.177

Moor,  J.H., Mizutani, M., and Dorsey, J.(2004). The internet and Japanese conception of privacy.Ethics and Inf. Technol. 6, 2 (Jun. 2004), 121-128. DOI= http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/B:ETIN.0000047479.12986.42

Murley, D. (2009). Law Libraries in the Cloud. Law Library Journal, Vol. 101, No. 2 (2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1335322

Nelson, M.R.(2009) The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy. Issues in Science and Technology (2009). From: http://www.issues.org/25.4/nelson.html, Retrieved (25 April 2010)

Paquette, S., Jaeger, P.T. Wilson, S.C. (2010). Identifying the security risks associated with governmental use of cloud computing. In Government Information Quarterly.

Pieters, W., & Cleeff, A.V.  (2009).The Precautionary Principle in a World of Digital Dependencies. In Computer, vol. 42, no. 6, pp. 50-56, May 2009, doi:10.1109/MC.2009.203

Pearson, S. and Charlesworth, A.(2009) Accountability as a Way Forward for Privacy Protection in The Cloud., In Cloud Computing(2009), M.G. Jaatun, G. Zhao, and C. Rong (Eds.):, p. 131–144

Van den Hoven, J. (2008). Information Technology, Privacy and the Protection of Personal Data. In Information Technology and Moral Philosophy(2008), Jeroen van den Hoven and John Weckert (Eds.). P 301-321

Won, Kim (2009) Cloud Computing: Today and Tomorrow. Journal of Object technology. Vol. 8, No. 1, January-February 2009.


Mohamed, A. (2009, March 27). A History of Cloud Computing. Retrieved 05 February 2014, Computer weekly:http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2009/03/27/235429/a-history-of-cloud-computing.htm

Research groups/projects/market information

Fenn, J., Raskino, M., Gammage, B. (2009). Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies. Retrieved from 7th February 2014 from, http://www.gartner.com/resources/169700/169747/gartners_hype_cycle_special__169747.pdf

The Think-Trust project: Think-Trust (FP7-216890) is a project funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme, within the Unit F5 ICT for Trust and Security. It is investigating Trust, Security, Dependability, Privacy and Identity from ICT and Societal Perspectives. Retrieved 7th February, 2014 from http://www.think-trust.eu/downloads/think-trust-documents/cloud-computing_v0-2/download.html



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