A fake freedom

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec


The trend of today is to see the web as a large platform for exchange, information, where users reign supreme, where the power is in the hands of the people. Let's check, shall we? Flickr proudly says they're "A Yahoo! company", complete with the exclamation point, Google is, in their own words "a public and profitable company focused on search services", FeedBurner "reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Service (or any part thereof) with or without notice" and the good folks at Del.icio.us seems intent to stay in the dark, except for a line thanking "Completely Reliable Networks".




See any evil there? I don't: the licenses are very cookie-cutter (nobody can afford to launch something with any kind of guarantee, nowadays), Yahoo! has full rights to mispunctuate and purchase collaborative sites and Google better make some profits for the well being of their employees. As for Del.icio.us, they follow the good old French proverb that one better stays hidden to live happily.




I may not see evil there but I do see companies, plenty of private interests and a clear message. "We own the content and we are here to make money. If anything goes wrong, please talk to our lawyers." Fine, great, even: it's how the world revolves in our capitalistic societies and it looks like we're all enjoying the perks of the system to some extent. If anything, this also says that our "freedom" and our "owning the new media" is a nice illusion.




Let's imagine for one moment that Google decides they make enough money with selling Lava lamps and pulls the plug on search. Gone are Google maps, page ranks, folksnomy, your precious e-mail collection, your source of information. Let's imagine Flickr, sorry, Flickr!, being a US-based company, needs to comply with laws and gets to delete every picture deemed inappropriate by the US government. Unless you keep a permanent backup of our collection, your data will go poof! with pretty much no chance to ever recover it — they do reserve the right to "remove Content and accounts containing Content that [they] determine in [their] sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene or otherwise objectionable." Let me repeat, "in their sole discretion". And what on earth is "objectionable"?




Again, nothing wrong here. But really, how much do we rely on these companies? For some of us, we couldn't conduct business, court that special guy and remember the groceries list without these commercial services. Yet, we seem to forget any service that is commercial is subject to the decision of its owners and escapes our control. For those of us who don't even live in the United States, we place our possessions and private lives under laws that don't define ownership, privacy and customer protection in the same way as our national laws — which may be good or bad, depending on where we come from.




Much like a popular car surveillance system, the Internet is "Always there, always ready". But these individual services, the ones we define as being at the core of a supposed "Web 2.0" are not. They are commercial ventures, as unpredictable as any other profit-seeking endeavor, as subject to bankruptcy or lunatic management practices.




Here is a game: let's say you have one day to download your pictures out of Flickr and your mail out of GMail. Can you? Do you even have access to the data? Do you still really own it?




Have we sold our most precious possession, our data, to companies? Worse, have we given it to them, along with our blessing to blend it with context-sensitive ads? Loaning it, using a specific service for a certain time is definitely OK, even if that service is proprietary, closed-source or whatever, but what about selling it, giving it away?




Is Web 2.0 about the success of a few technologies or the success of a few companies?



13 Comments

spaceman
2005-10-04 06:07:24
datalibre
Looks dreadful ATM, but: http://datalibre.com
trollll
2005-10-04 06:51:36
echoing the feeling of the author's post
why do you think i own my own sites (on a small host i can trust - i'd do it myself if i had the time and resources), run my own home-grown (admittedly partially broken) gallery software for my wife's pictures and from said sites have my own email addresses?


webmail (over ssl of course) works just fine when i need to check from somewhere without my own machine. if you take time to actually read even some of the fine print in those agreements you'll see that keeping ownership of your own content, images and personal information (as much as you can, at least), far outweighs the value of an ajax-driven mail service by a company that has the money to do it. just remember they don't do it because they love you.


hell, i deny google anything to track me by when i can just because that creeps me out. when i want a site to personalize something to my habits, i'll sign up with an account and do it myself, knowing full well that every click i make (or even mouse-over) gets recorded, tracked, analyzed and charted for their marketing and advertising pleasure.


i want to control my own 'net experience, thank you; not the other way around.

Orgen
2005-10-04 07:20:50
A really old post
At least the first half of this post is two years old. The exact same words.
F.J.
2005-10-04 07:26:06
A really old post
Hi!


Hmm, that would be pretty impressive given that I have written it from scratch today… Dare I ask for a link?


FJ

F.J.
2005-10-04 07:28:28
DataLibre
Hi!


First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to write, I really do appreciate it!


Indeed, and we witnessed the birth of DataLibre on the O'Reilly Network Itself:


http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/5594


FJ

F.J.
2005-10-04 07:53:05
Echoing the feeling of the author's post
Hi!


Thank you very much for sharing these insights with us!


FJ

FeltzCRM
2005-10-04 11:14:08
Safety deposit box...
You could say the same thing about my bank closing, and destroying what's in my safety deposit box. Or my self-storage unit. But of course, we have laws that explain what ownership of stuff (atoms) means, dating back thousands of years, so the risk of that happening is miniscule.
We need the same kinds of laws regarding bits. And if those laws vary from country to country, then that just means people should choose where to store their bits accordingly, the same way they might choose to own foreign property or bank accounts.
F.J.
2005-10-04 11:22:31
Safety deposit box...
Hi!


That is very true, many real life situations are comparable to what is described in this entry. There is however one added problem to keep in mind when dealing with online services: technical feasibility. Indeed, while walking up to your safety deposit box and taking your possessions away with you should be doable (unless you happen to have an extremely large safety deposit box), most users do not own enough drives to store gigabytes of mail, attachments or pictures.


Also, many services limit the download of data and/or the ways in which you can retrieve it, meaning you may end up with something equally useless for the average user as a 10,000 lines long OPML file - not that I have anything against OPML but most people won't know what to do with it. In the case of safety deposit boxes, the content of what is in them is (hopefully) never altered by the bank itself and you are the one in charge of arranging your belongings inside the space you rent.


Thanks for sharing your ideas with us!


FJ

FeltzCRM
2005-10-04 11:44:30
Safety deposit box...
Well, if you have so much stuff in your self-storage unit that you can't load it into your car, maybe you need to think about reducing the amount of stuff you have... Otherwise, you need to accept the risk that your stuff might sometime just go away.
It's a tradeoff you need to make in life, like any other. Want to live on the beach? Then your house might get demolished by a hurricane. Want to live in the middle of a 10+ million person metropolis? Then you can't evacuate in the event of massive terrorist attack.
F.J.
2005-10-04 12:35:09
Safety deposit box...
Hi again!


I fully agree! :^)


FJ

GeorgeWalkley
2005-10-04 12:46:33
Mitigating Risk in Web 2.0
I think this ultimately boils down to whether we consider web 2.0/web services a replacement for local applications and data storage, or a convenient complement to them. Trackbacks not working on my blog for some reason, but more on the subject at www.georgewalkley.com.
F.J.
2005-10-04 12:54:02
Mitigating Risk in Web 2.0
Hi!


Thanks for taking the time to post!


That question is indeed part of the equation, and in no small way. The more we will rely on third-party remote providers, the more important it will be to frame these services with strict agreements and industry guidelines — for a lack of laws governing online activities.


Of course, as we all know, what's "legal" is not necessarily "moral" or "right". ;^D


FJ

seaquist
2005-10-05 09:59:10
Download my flickr photos in one day?
Sure, you bet I can. I use a program that was designed by a guy in the UK, it's a fantastic backup utility for flickr - i can download all my tagged, sorted photos on flickr with it. I also recently used it to get my photos off of flicker and onto my new online service.


It's a free program, contact the developer at luke.church.name