Take back the data – Part 1

The recent closures of Google Reader and Catch have reminded me of the quote: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” Free services aren’t really free, we are just paying for them with our data instead of our money. If the “free” service can’t find a way to make money with our data, they turn into a pay service or disappear.

I was fortunate that both Google Reader and Catch allowed me to download my feeds and notes before they closed. I just had to spend the time to find replacements and transfer my data. Between these two closures and the revelations that world’s spy agencies are working really hard to monitor and record my data, I have decided that I would like to take back ownership of my data.

Not that long ago, before the “cloud”, all of our data (documents, photos, music, etc.) was stored exclusively on our own computers. This was sometimes a problem: we had to copy files to a floppy to move them to another machine; sometimes we lost data when a computer crashed. Today, internet companies make it easy to store our data on their computers. There is flikr for photos, Amazon will store your music, Dropbox will store your documents, Google and Facebook will keep track of your contacts and mail. And of course it is all “free”. This works pretty well most of the time. The corporations let us access the data from anywhere, and they are pretty good about making backups.

But there are lots of problems too: corporations come and go; they make mistakes and lose data, or hackers break in and steal data; sometimes they sell the data to advertisers, or give data to the government; sometimes they decide that you aren’t using their services correctly and take away your account. That is the trade off that we all make when we sign up for a “cloud” service. We are giving up control of our data for convenience.

I have adopted many of the cloud services myself, and it will be difficult to give up the convenience that they provide. The first step is to take stock of what services I am currently using.

[table] Service, Data, Export?, Cost
Amazon.com, “Wishlist, purchased music, purchased books”, Mixed, Music sales
Dropbox, File sharing for touch games, Yes, Free
Evernote, Notes, Yes, Free
Facebook, “Posts, photos, connections”, Partial, Free
Feedly, “Feed reader. List of feeds, tagged articles”, Partial, Free
FamilyEcho, Geneology and birthdays/names/etc for extended family, Yes, Free
Geni, Geneology and birthdays/names/etc for extended family, Yes, Free
Google+, “Posts, photos, connections”, Yes, Free
Google Calendar, Events, Yes, Free
Google Contacts, Phone numbers and addresses for friends and family, Yes, Free
Google Docs, Online office suite. A few documents and spreadsheets, Yes, Free
Google Mail, Email, Yes, Free
Google Voice, “Phone number, voicemail, text messages”, Yes, Free
Hostmonster, “Website host. Blog posts, photos, email, practice log data”, Yes, $12/month
LastPass, “Passwords”, Yes, Free
LinkedIn, connections, Partial, Free
reddit, Saved links, No, Free
SteamPowered, Computer games, Yes (kind of), Game sales
Twitter, Tweets, Mostly, Free
YouTube, Videos, Yes, Free