Location and brand affect people's trust in cloud services

May 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- People's stereotypes regarding different locations around the world influence whether they feel secure in storing their data in cloud service centers in those locations, according to researchers at Penn State, who also found that stereotypes regarding brand authority influence people's trust in cloud services.

"There's a big push in industry to move toward cloud computing, but many people are hesitant to save their information in the cloud because of a lack of control and trust," said S. Shyam Sundar,

James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects. "Some people are uncomfortable not knowing where their data is physically located, even though cloud data exists among many different servers and not necessarily in one geographic location. Our study attempts to understand people's perceptions regarding the location and brand of cloud service centers."

The researchers recruited participants from the online workforce Amazon Mechanical Turk, all residing in the United States, to examine the effects of location and brand cues on users' trust in cloud services. The team created a product announcement that advertised 50 gigabytes of free space in the cloud as a special offer given in celebration of the opening of new cloud service data centers. Specifically, the team created 22 versions of the product announcement including various combinations of 11 locations and two companies.

The companies included Google Drive and a fictitious company called Titan Drive. The locations included U.S. urban and rural cities, and cities in Europe, Oceania, India, China, Japan, Korea, Russia, South America, the Middle East and Africa. The results will be presented today (May 8) at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow, Scotland.

The researchers found that when the cloud service announced new data center openings in Oceania, Europe, the rural U.S. or China, participants' perceived security was the highest. Participants also perceived the service centers in these regions to be more usable, and they had more positive attitudes toward them and greater intentions to enroll in them. Perceived security and usability of the cloud service, as well as general attitudes toward the service, were the lowest for data centers located in Russia.

The team also found that participants perceived security was higher for Google Drive than Titan Drive.

"The data suggest that a well-known brand such as Google can have a positive effect on user perceptions of cloud services," said Sundar. "This means users expect well-known companies to be better guardians of their personal data."

In its examination of combinations among location and brand, the team found that participants placed the most trust in Google Drive data centers located in Oceania. They placed the lowest trust in Titan Drive data centers located in Russia.

"In some locations -- Europe, India, China and Japan -- it didn't matter whether it was Google or Titan," said Sundar. "People were willing to overlook the brand unfamiliarity because they are comfortable with these four locations."

According to Sundar, the findings suggest that perceptions of cloud services are not solely dictated by distance from the user's own location, nor do they seem to be based on the political systems of the countries in which the data center are located because, for example, both China and Russia are communist countries, but they scored on opposite ends of the scales.

"We were somewhat surprised by China being positioned at the higher end of user evaluations," said Eugene Cho, a researcher in the Media Effects Research Lab who worked on this study. "Perhaps, despite the distance, recent technological advances in China contributed to positive user impressions. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to understanding the location effects."

"Recent allegations about Russian interference in U.S. elections via social media, hacking and related cyber-activities may have played a role in Russia receiving the lowest ranking in our study," said Sundar. "However, if the cloud service is offered by a credible company such as Google, security concerns are mitigated somewhat, which suggests a trade-off between authority and location."

In general, said Sundar, the study demonstrates the psychological significance of revealing cloud data center locations to users.

"Not only can revealing cloud data centers' locations increase transparency of cloud hosting services," he said, "but it also can tap into user preferences for housing their data and thereby earn their trust."
The National Science Foundation supported this research.

EDITORS: Dr. Sundar is available at 814-865-2173 or sss12@psu.edu.

Sara LaJenuesse (814) 863-6910 sdl13@psu.edu

A'ndrea Elyse Messer (814) 865-9481 aem1@psu.edu

Penn State

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