How US surveillance efforts spiked interest in overseas cloud providers

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Since summer, revelations about the scope of the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts have ignited debates about privacy and the government’s boundaries when it comes to protecting citizens from terrorism and security concerns.

PRISM, the name of the clandestine program, set off a firestorm in governments near and far.

It has also brought a flood of competitors to the IT sector. These include a slew of non-U.S. companies offering customers cloud storage options that are alternatives to Dropbox and other services from this country. Their pitch tends to be that choosing them removes worries about what data NSA is collecting and not collecting entirely out of the equation and that their packages are less intrusive and more secure.

How the field will ultimately shake out is unclear, but the field is widening, offering more options for consumers and businesses as a result.

The emerging businesses, which are beginning to receive attention and traction, include Norwegian-based Jottacloud, Canadian-based Sync and Cloudpartner.de, out of Germany.

Roland Rabben, CEO and founder of Jottacloud, said in an email interview that his company, which touts data storage sheltered from U.S. snooping, currently has about 330,000 users. He formed Jottacloud to make it easy to store data in the cloud. Many people don’t know how much data they need to store, so there’s an unlimited plan that is gaining in popularity.

“Following Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations last year, we rapidly grew from 200,000 to 300,000 users in around six months’ time,” Rabben said.

Jottacloud first offered storage to individuals, and then in late in 2013, it expanded its services. Jottacloud for Business is still new and “hasn’t reach substantial volumes yet,” he said.

Historically, the customer base hails from Norway and surrounding countries Sweden and Denmark. NSA surveillance news, though, changed this dramatically, resulting in significant growth in users from the United States and Northern Europe. Traffic from the U.S., alone, increased tenfold when Jottacloud introduced its Privacy Guarantee.

Jottacloud will only hand over data if Norwegian authorities issue a warrant, Rabben said. And to get a company to hand out user data requires a court ruling.

“In the U.S, however, the authorities can do pretty much as they please,” Rabben said. “This is actually not anything new, but the revelations about the PRISM program have thankfully contributed toward making people more aware of the problem.”

Although U.S. players have local subsidiaries that store data in European data centers, the users remain unprotected, he continued.

“Through the Patriot Act, U.S. authorities can force all American companies, including all their overseas subsidiaries, to hand over user data at any given time,” Rabben said. “Jottacloud’s servers are based in Norway. The company is Norwegian, has Norwegian owners and operates under Norwegian privacy laws. This means that our users are protected against U.S. legislation.”

Another data storage company, Cloudpartner.de is a white label provider that’s been providing services for just five months now and, subsequently, is trying to build up its client base. Press spokeswoman Susanne Mildner said the company offers small businesses the opportunity to outsource into the cloud and to market the solution under their own brand name.

“We are the first to offer Windows Server 2012R2 working within a cloud platform which is based in a German data center,” she said. “Our cloud services are very flexible to the varying needs of computing performance. Furthermore, the billing is performance-based through a pay-as-you-go system. You only pay the resources you really used. This enables even very small businesses to thrive into the cloud without investing millions of Euros.”

Cloudpartner.de was founded because, so far in Germany, the cloud has been leaving behind traditional IT channels — distributor, reseller, systems integrator. Many of them reject cloud technology altogether due to data safety concerns. Also, many cloud providers only offer standardized services in predefined packages, when each business is different with individual requirements.

That’s why her company is emphasizing both its status as a white-label provider and that its cloud services are based in a highly secure German data center.

“German data protection law is very strict,” Mildner said. “The data center is certified according to ISO 27001, which means a maximum of data security for the client.”

Out of nearby Canada, Sync was founded late in 2011 and has been growing since. Sync President Thomas Savundra said the majority of customers are based in the U.S., followed by Canada and England and include law firms, health care professionals, researchers, writers and journalists.

The company offers several packages when it comes to data storage: a free 5GB plan, a “pro” plan offering 500GB of storage and a 1000TB plan.

“The key difference with Sync is the guarantee of real data privacy,” he said via email. “Other cloud services can take a look at your files. We can’t. Your files are encrypted before they leave your computer, using a key we can never see.”

The nexus of the company was personal. Savundra said he and his associates themselves wanted a convenient way to store and share key files without having to give third-party service providers access to the data in those files.

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Cloudpartner.de, Department of Defense (DOD), Departments, Edward Snowden, Jottacloud, National Security Agency, patriot act, PRISM, Sync, Tech
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