There have been debates talking about the issue of online personal information. I do notice that ‘personal’ does not suit the context perfectly. Frankly speaking, once we send a piece of private information to a server, it is no longer personal. The internet service provider values user data, what they care is preserving the data, having it backup on not only a single hard drive, but several ones.
When a user clicks delete button and imagine the information being destoryed, what happens is absolutely not the same as imagination. The web page says “confirm to delete” to the user, but requests the database to add a mark to that row, and returns “Deleted successfully” to user interface. This is not the fault of any online service. It’s just a conventional standard in database technology, which won’t be explained clearly to an user.
Rencently I watched a BBC documentary called Virtual Revolution – The Cost of Free from Dr Aleks Krotoski. She interviewed leaders of internet industry, including Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Eric Schmidt from Google, Reed Hastings from Netflix, Bill Gates from Microsoft, Chad Hurley from YouTube and so on. Their conversation shows clearly how the free service is supported by commercial competition, and how we pay for it unconsciously with our personal information given away.
Then I made a mindmap to calculate how much do I share with the powerful, helpful internet. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are cookies and mobile applications helping track your health data, how long you sleep every night, where you are, which city you are going to travel, what kind of merchandise you are likely going to purchase, every single person that you may know. Almost everything about you. The internet companies know more about you than yourself.
Sometimes we feel ok to give data because the one who keeps data is a neutral third party at that time. But how can we predict the future? That company can change their profit model, join another big campany, go bankrupt or dissolve. Back to 2009, I was using Google, YouTube, G.ho.st, Mofile, Baidu and so on.
G.ho.st is an online virtual desktop service running in browser. It has a meaningful starting point. It’s built by Israeli and Palestinian software engineers and programmers, although divided by stressful political situation, which means they have to cooperate online. I saw the news and got a try on this system, storaged several files on it. But later I received an email saying that the project couldn’t go further and would stop to provide the service.
Well another example is Mofile, a file sharing platform, which was established in 2005, had 100 million page view per month. The online community( I was part of it) relied on this sharing service and used that a lot. But it stopped hosting files for free users in 2009, and shut down in 2011. Those fragile sites can’t even protect themselves from falling down, how can they protect our data well?
We are being watched, we are exposed as never before, we can’t prevent this trend but take the responsibility to protect private data on our own.
Acknowledgement: Virtual Revolution – The Cost of Free
 Israel and Palestine, Co-operation in the ether, Hope for economic co-operation across the barrier
Photo of ghost from G.HO.ST (“GHOST”) – YOUR ONLINE VIRTUAL COMPUTER https://whatsonmypc.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/ghost/