Dan Gillmor

It's Your Stuff? Maybe Not

John Dvorak: Google Pulls Plug, Everyone Misses Point. The scary part is that we are not talking about some flaky, small underfunded company. We’re talking about Google, a behemoth. This tells me that if Google can throw in the towel and abandon one of its online-related services, then anyone can do it—and they will. And then they’ll all point to Google. “Well, if Google can do it after it made promises, then we can do it.” It can happen anywhere. You have all your family photos online? Good luck with that. Your blogging software and blog are all online? Have a nice day. Your business is completely reliant on online systems? How does your insurance policy look?

The case here is about customers’ ability to use a service they purchased. Google is reneging on its promise. But the bigger issue is in the latter part of this quote — whether the photos, text, videos, financial information and other things you put online are yours, or whether they end up belonging, in practice if not principle, to the company you use to store and/or display them.

For citizen media creators contributing their work to a variety of sites, this is not a trivial issue. The portability of data is one of the absolutely crucial problems in a world of online-everything.

You cannot absolutely depend on online vendors to protect your information, despite their best intentions (and most of them have very good intentions). If you can’t download your data to your own computer, in a form that lets you use it elsewhere with not too much hassle, then you should be clear: It’s not really your data after all.

Should there be a law about this? I suspect, in the end, we may need one.