The Cloud: How Sacred is our Personal Information

cloudBy Jon Mitchell-

(April 5, 2012) Facebook says its Timeline “tells the story of who you are.” That’s lofty wording. It assumes that you share “who you are” on Facebook. It also assumes you share enough of yourself to make Facebook Timeline “the” definitive “story” about you. Similarly, Path version 2 calls itself a “journal.”

While both these apps are ostensibly for sharing, they’re also asking people to use them to store their own memories. Facebook and Path both put great effort into pretty presentations of these memories. But each could change tomorrow for business reasons. If we want to be able to reminisce about this early era of mobile tech, we can’t depend on the free, hosted apps we use to share our lives now.

These apps, as well as Instagram, Google+ and so many other life-streaming apps, are free for a reason. Their business models are based on user data, and they need as much of it as they can possibly get to make money. If these businesses can make money selling our personal data, it must be valuable.

To us, they’re invaluable. We can’t put a price on our photos from college or of the day our child was born. But advertisers are optimistic about their ability to do so, so they pay for these social apps for us. And we dutifully upload our photos there because it’s free, it’s easy, it looks pretty, and our friends are there.

Hopefully, you keep your photos backed up on your own computer. If not, let me stop you right there. Please try to do that. You won’t regret it.

But we’re increasingly putting effort into the arrangement of those memories on other people’s servers. When we organized physical photo albums, we owned the metadata of that arrangement, so to speak. But our albums, orders and captions on Facebook aren’t ours. Facebook’s data portability is definitely getting better, but it’s a bit like dumping out your old photo albums on the floor.

When we put the effort into trimming our Timelines, choosing which events to highlight and which to hide, we’re doing data entry for Facebook, but there’s no guarantee that work will hold its value for us.

What happens when Facebook changes its business model, or Path or Instagram comes up with a business model, and they decide to rearrange our histories for better ad value? Would you let someone do that to your physical journal or photo gallery? This is why I quit Path, because I didn’t want to put too much work into making great memories I could someday lose.

So my solution is to journal first and share second. I want to make Day One the first app I launch to record a memory. I back it up to iCloud and my own computer. If a post is worth sharing to a social network, I’ll do that next. If someone makes a great comment I want to remember, I’ll copy it into my Day One entry. It’s worth it to me to own the data.

You might say you don’t care enough about the things you share on Path or Facebook, or that they’re just temporary. But scroll back in your timeline and ask yourself if that’s true. When I do that, it feels like these trivial little things become much more valuable over time. I think that’s exactly why Facebook and Path let us share them for free. Later, when they’re worth more to us, we’ll want to see them again. They might be monetized by then.

(First published, on April 4, 2012, by Jon Mitchell)

The following excerpts from (factsheet 35),discuss your privacy rights on social media websites:

(Revised June 2011) Many people besides friends and acquaintances are interested in the information people post on social networks.  Identity thieves, scam artists, debt collectors, stalkers, and corporations looking for a market advantage are using social networks to gather information about consumers.  Companies that operate social networks are themselves collecting a variety of data about their users, both to personalize the services for the users and to sell to advertisers.

Social network can change its privacy policy at any time without a user’s permission. Content that was posted with restrictive privacy settings may become visible when a privacy policy is altered.

Social networks themselves do not necessarily guarantee the security of the information that has been uploaded to a profile, even when those posts are set to be private. For example, Facebook’s Privacy Policy as of May 7, 2010, stated that:

“We cannot guarantee that only authorized persons will view your information. We cannot ensure that information you share on Facebook will not become publicly available. We are not responsible for third-party circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures on Facebook.”

Employers are increasingly monitoring what employees post on social networking sites. In fact, many companies have social media policies that limit what you can and cannot post on social networking sites about your employer.

Many companies have social media policies that limit what you can and cannot post on social networking sites about your employer. A website called Compliance Building has a database of social media policies for hundreds of companies. You should ask your supervisor or human resources department what the policy is for your company.

There is no federal law that prohibits an employer from monitoring employees on social networking sites. In fact, employers can even hire third-party companies to monitor online employee activity for them. In March, 2010 a company called Teneros launched a “Social Sentry” service that tracks the online activity of employees across social networking sites.

Tomorrow Newsbyrd will look at George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and talk about this American Classic as a premonition of society today.


Posted by at April 5, 2012
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