Don’t Trust Google With Your Data (or Anyone Else)

Posted by Michael Pinto on Mar 28, 2010 in Tech |

Google is Evil: Photo illustration by Isaac Lopez and Sarah Feinsmith

I was never given a warning, so I was upset to suddenly try and log into my YouTube account to see that it had been deactivated. Of course I have my theories: I used the account to post many clips for this blog featuring everything from movie trailers to Japanese commercials. So I suspect that the copyright gods might not have been on my side. Although in the past when that was the case YouTube would do anything from yanking the video, to removing the soundtrack to keeping the video and inserting ads. Of course this is just a guess, I was never sent an email so I don’t know.

RSS turned out to be my friend — illustration by Matt Forsythe

Above: RSS turned out to be my friend — illustration by Matt Forsythe.

However most of what I used the account for was to subscribe to other feeds on the site — which was the real data that I had valued above everything else. And now without a backup all that info was gone. Of course I was lucky in that I had bookmarked an RSS feed — so I was able to find the most popular YouTube accounts that I liked and then bookmarked their RSS feeds. Now I could create a new YouTube account just for those feeds, but I realized that my trust with Google had just diminished a great deal.

Not only had I decided not to re-start a YouTube account — but it made me question switching my ancient copy of Outlook that was downloading my email for a Gmail account. My email is critical to my business, so why would you a trust your most precious assets with a company that you had no recourse with? If they can take down your YouTube or Blogger account (which I’ve seen happen to many other folks) then how long until they start doing that more and more with Gmail accounts?

I think most of us trust the Google brand because of their “do no evil” motto — and to be fair they do back that up from time to time in the real world. For example that move out of China wasn’t a cheap one, and censoring their search engine results would have made it a lesser product. However that still doesn’t take away the fact that they are a business that needs to make money. However the flip side of the freemium model that’s so popular in a post web 2.0 world is that there is no customer service.

Of course to a certain extent I’m picking on Google and I’ve seen this behavior in other companies. For example I’m a long time user of Flickr which is still my favorite photo website. However from time to time I’ll see them delete an account without any warning to a user. Overnight someone that has uploaded thousands of photos can find themselves without a backup or a recourse to get that data. Of course Yahoo! has been bad about this in other aspects of their business. There was a soldier killed in the Iraq war and Yahoo! was determined not to let the next of kin get the email from their son. That case was resolved through legal means, but it paints a good lesson.

That lesson is that whenever you use a third party service really think about what data that they have which is valuable to you should that service go down. Take for example Facebook — at first glance it’s a very casual service that most folks are only using for social interactions. However if you think about it your social circle (i.e. your social graph) itself has a real value. If you think about it Facebook is in fact a rolodex for many of of our long lost friends who we have reconnected with. Facebook makes it very hard to move that data off of their service as it’s the lifeblood of their site — however that’s all the more reason to make it a point yo make sure you have the contact info of anybody you want to stay in touch with duplicated off their website.

Some sites are better and worse than this than others. So I would suggest that everybody take a good look at each service that they use: social media, email, photos, video, blogging, etc. and do audit of each site and have a plan. Some of the better sites allow you to use third party tools to store your info. For example there are several utilities that allow you to download all of your photos from Flickr. Granted when you do that you may not keep all of the comments and tagging associated with a photo, but you may find that it’s better than doing nothing if you wake up one day and Yahoo! goes out of business.

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