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Your Digital Exit Strategy

As we approach the new year, I’m thinking about resolutions for 2012. One of my primary tech-themed resolutions is getting a better handle on my “cloud” data. Robert Nyman, a Technical Evangelist at Mozilla, shares some reasons for why you might want to concern yourself with “Who Owns Your Online Life, And Data?”

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.

Robert points out that these companies do provide great services and there be nothing wrong with your centering your digital life around them. Still it is worth considering an inventory of what you use online and what your backup and exit strategies are.

An example might be “What would it take to have a mirror copy of everything I’ve put into Flickr?” It is a harder question once you dig into it. You might say “I have a copy of every photo I’ve hosted on Flickr in iPhoto.” That tackles the archival of the photo material but it may not capture the taxonomy, geo-tagging, or even URI system-of-record services that Flickr is providing. I’m not trying to pick on Flickr btw, I think they do an impressive job of opening up their service. Aaron Straup Cope’s “parallel-flickr” project is a great example of what you can do.

If I could pick on anyone in the moment, it would probably be Path and their pivot to being a “Smart Journal” provider. Your backup or exit strategy with Path appears to be the following:

Can I download all of my Path data?
Yes! We’re happy to help you get a copy of your Path data anytime. Please send a request to service at path dot com and we’ll take care of your request.

I’m sure that’ll scale awesomely when Path is bought out by some company you aren’t comfortable with. (And it is a shame because the smart journal user experience Path is providing really is quite nice.)