TL;DR: I’m what you’d call a social networking skeptic and I have little trust in the services we use to house our data.
I’ve been thinking about writing a post like this for sometime. It’s not controversial and it won’t result in a lot of discussion, but it’s something important to me and it took a while to articulate everything it is that I wanted to say.
Originally, it started off as something like this:
When it comes to working with data and applications, it’s important I have the ability to own my data.
But that isn’t completely true, so hear me out.
I know some people believe that open source gives them the ability to own all of the information that they give to the application, but that’s not always the case.
First, I think using nothing but open source as a personal philosophy is great. It’s not something that I personally choose to do, but I absolutely understand it and it does have a certain allure to it.
Secondly, when working with open source software, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the information that you’re giving an application will continue to be own solely by you. Take, for example, Instagram.
It’s a closed source application that uses third-party libraries several of which are open source:
And that’s also fine. Using other libraries rather than writing your own – under the right circumstances – is one mark of good software development.
But do they let you maintain the ownership of your images and videos? This isn’t meant to call out Instagram specifically, but any of the social sharing services that are currently available (especially those that are popular).
To be clear, applications like Instagram do let you maintain a copy of your image on your Camera Roll (or whatever equivalent application your phone or device calls it), but that image is now stored on a third-party server where it may or may not persist from the moment it’s shared and whether or not you delete your account.
And sure, the terms to which you agree – whether you’ve read them or not – are subject to change at any time such that perhaps the rights you have today are not the rights you have tomorrow.
Again, for what it’s worth, I use Instagram as an example not because I’m out to vilify them, but because they were the first example that came to mind.
Anyway, the more I began to think about data ownership as it relates to social applications, the cloud, and basically any other application, the more I began to realize that my problem isn’t that I want to own all of my data – I mean, of course I want to own all of my data – but that I’m skeptical as to what some services may do with the data that I give them.
In this case, I’m specifically talking about social networking services.
A Social Networking Skeptic
First, I want to clarify what it means that I’m “okay sharing some of my data.” When it comes to backing up project files that are inherently open source (that is, I make a living off of WordPress so the majority of my work is open source anyway), I don’t mind sharing it with services like Dropbox or GitHub.
I willingly enter into an agreement with these services knowing full well that the information that I’m giving them is being stored somewhere else and though I have a copy of the information on my local computer, they do as well and I generally assume that the information will probably be kept whether I continue to use it or not.
I also know that the aforementioned companies have had their fair share of being in the news for different reasons. But, for the purposes of this post, all of that is beside the point. Instead, what I’m trying to say is this:
Though I’m willingly entering into a relationship where some of my information is kept on a third-party system, I’m okay with that for the benefit that said service grants me.
Would I keep something like tax information or the social security information of my children in Dropbox? No. Would I keep a backup of, say, my latest WordPress project in Dropbox? Yes. Is this a universal statement? No – imagine if I were to be working on a project that, say, required I sign an NDA – would I want to take that risk? No.
So you see where I’m coming from: Each time I want to share something I know I’m handing over to a third-party, I try to decide if this is something that I want someone else to own or not.
There’s an article that I’ve seen circulating the Internet for a couple of weeks (though the original article is from 2011!) that I think sums this up nicely:
I encountered the nothing-to-hide argument so frequently in news interviews, discussions, and the like that I decided to probe the issue. I asked the readers of my blog, Concurring Opinions, whether there are good responses to the nothing-to-hide argument. I received a torrent of comments:
- My response is “So do you have curtains?” or “Can I see your credit-card bills for the last year?”
- So my response to the “If you have nothing to hide … ” argument is simply, “I don’t need to justify my position. You need to justify yours. Come back with a warrant.”
- I don’t have anything to hide. But I don’t have anything I feel like showing you, either.
- If you have nothing to hide, then you don’t have a life.
- Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.
- It’s not about having anything to hide, it’s about things not being anyone else’s business.
- Bottom line, Joe Stalin would