Who owns your online life, and data?

We all spend a good part of our lives online, and it has helped us share information, pictures, videos and much more with family, friends and, well, the entire world. It lets us interact with a lot of people in ways never seen before. That is fantastic, but I’d also like you to give a second thought about what you share and how.

Company dependency and free services

Do you have all your mail on Gmail, appointments in Google calendar, pictures on Picasa and videos on YouTube? Do you use Facebook to sign into every service you use and article you comment on, on the web? All your pictures you’ve ever taken on Flickr?

A number of these companies offer these services for free. Free is a relative term, of course, since a majority of them go through your data and recorded behavior to present you with ads and similar information; at the same time, it makes it a much more compelling platform for advertisers with targeted ads. This data could, at least potentially, also be shared with third party companies, so in essence you can never be entirely sure what and how much a company knows about you.

Many people say they are fine with sharing all the data about them, but I’m unsure they realize just how much companies know about them. You can make a conscious decision what to share, all the time, but always be ready that anyone out there can access anything you ever share.

These services are great!

Don’t get me wrong: all these services are great! The companies behind them are businesses, offering services and making money like any company. All I want you to be is a bit cautious, though, with relying to much on just one company, and also giving all your information to that same company. Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. You choose what to share and where: never let yourself end up in a situation where you’ve created such a dependency on a company that bailing out is quite hard.

Store your information in more than one, unrelated, services and make sure you always have alternatives and back-up plans. Make sure you can cancel an account and have all associated data removed right away.

The web and all its information out there for you to consume is fantastic! But make sure it is on your terms. For instance, why does a Facebook news app need to know my personal information, likes etc? Or rather, of course it wants it and to analyze as much data about you as possible, but don’t agree to that.

And even more, even if you want to use apps like that, don’t post it on your Wall: by that behavior you, more or less, trick other friends into installing the same app, sharing all their information etc, because they just have to read what you, their friend, read. It’s about trust and recommendations, and we all have a responsibility there.

Enjoy the web as much as you can! But please, just think about what you share, and make sure that you, and no one else, is in control of that.


  • zoujh says:

    As your post indicates (+1, tweet this, like this, etc) yes, our lives belong to Google, twitter and Facebook mainly.
    And you’re all part of it πŸ™‚

  • Robert Nyman says:


    And as I said, use the services, but be aware of when you do it and why. You don’t have to click any of those buttons, you can read this article without any of those services, any specific apps etc.

  • Bob says:

    you can read this article without any of those services

    I read this post on Planet Mozilla. Clicking on the post title there redirects via feedproxy.google.com. Clicking instead on your name beside it brings me straight to this blog’s front page where I can access the post directly to comment. A couple of other Planet blogs require the same unintuitive privacy dance. Not complaining, but one of my pet tracking peeves.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    It’s a valid point. My posts are available through my web site directly, but it’s very true that the aggregated kinds of solutions (like Planet Mozilla) then go through the solution I have for my feeds, FeedBurner – which is, in turn, now owned by Google.

    So there are, at least, many ways to access my content.

  • Steve Fink says:

    What I’d like to see is a convincing post describing why we should be worried. I’m protective of my privacy, but I have to say that it’s really from an intuitive understanding that dropping my shorts for the world to see is a bad idea. That doesn’t help me convince other people, most of whom are apathetic and/or fatalistic (it’s too late, the cat’s out of the bag). I’d really like a list of scenarios that feel plausible. Most of the scenarios I’ve heard described aren’t scary enough to counteract the all-too-real costs of worrying about privacy. Here are the ones I’ve heard:

    “Google might turn evil” — or they might not. Or at least, not evil enough to care about.
    “Advertisers will know where you live, who your friends are, and that you’re going to need a divorce lawyer before you do” — and what will they do with it other than show me more relevant ads? It’s creepy, but creepy isn’t good enough in a world that’s already this far past 1984.
    “Identity thieves will get your credit card number” — and my bank will be pissed. I might even lose some money, but that costs me less than living in a yurt with a tinfoil hat on.
    “Your girlfriend will know you’re cheating on her” — but I’m not. Everyone is an angel until they aren’t, and you can’t recover privacy that you lost in the past.
    “Your students/prospective employer will see you smashed at a party” — first, see the previous point (I’m still in school, I don’t have any students yet. I don’t drink that much… that I can remember.) Second, that’s becoming true for everyone. It’s the new norm.
    “That girl you just met is in the bathroom, Googling you” — only fair, since I’m Googling her. The time elapsed for going from ogle2google is bounded only by how quickly I can catch her name.
    “The government could make up an excuse to turn the country into a police state — and make it stick. Forever.” — too inconceivable. Plausibility doesn’t make it any more conceivable.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking forward to face recognition knowing whenever I step out into public, power usage monitors and thermal imagers reporting on when I’m home and when my schedule deviates, license plate readers knowing how fast I’m going and every instance when I’ve gone to the drug store in the past decade, my exact 3-dimensional path through the world minus the few times I’m not carrying my cell phone, etc. But the privacy erosion and drawbacks from it are gradual, so without some convincing examples, there’ll never be a strong enough groundswell of opposition to halt it. Oh, there’ll be minor reversals and stutters in the erosion process, but just long enough to people to get comfortable again.

    I’m sure someone has written up something good. I just haven’t found it. Anyone?

  • Robert Nyman says:


    It’s a good question. I think it’s quite relative, though. For most people who haven’t experienced something bad, it’s hard to foresee what it is and how much it can affect you.

    I most cases, you don’t really know until it has happened. It’s the same as meeting people in person – you share what you feel comfortable sharing, things that could potentially be “used against you” and that’s fine. But you keep the private things to close friends.

    I guess the same applies to the web – it’s fine doing it, it’s hard to tell the exact risks, but just do it with awareness and moderation.

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