Tag Archives: Yahoo

Facebook Buying Instagram Isn’t the Big Data Ownership Story – Yahoo’s Reorg Is

Send to Kindle

Instagram - 8

So Facebook bought photosharing mobile network Instagram for tidy $1 billion this week. In all the furor about whether Instagram is selling out or Facebook is frightened of mobile or if this is further proof Facebook’s IPO will break the NASDAQ, we are obliged to ask what this means for data ownership, particularly for Instagram users. The answers are thus:

  1. Not much
  2. That’s the wrong question

As to point one, Instagram already had a pretty solid lock on the use of any photos you put in their service, as their TOS makes clear with the beneficent caveat that “Content not shared publicly (“private”) will not be distributed outside the Instagram Services.” Whether Facebook constitues an “outside” now that they own Instagram is up for debate, but since the whole point of Instagram is to share photos on Facebook (and other social networks) — and those networks make similar claims to any content shared on their services — Facebook probably already owned distributive rights to your pics. All this buyout means is that Facebook is running the advertising side of Instagram, rather than Instagram keeping the monetizing in-house.

As to point two, let’s take a look at the mass firings, investor vs. executive sniping and near-wholesale management reorganization gripping Yahoo, which is still the fourth most visited website in the world. Do you send messages with Yahoo Mail, hold photographs in Flickr or play roto baseball over at Yahoo Fantasy Sports? Then the meltdown of one of the most popular web enterprises on the planet is of interest you — particularly from a data ownership perspective. Section 9 of the Yahoo TOS states that “with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! … worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s),” which is to say they can use your data for free forever, and make whatever money off of it they want, too. Section 14 of those same Terms of Service warns that “Yahoo! reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, the Yahoo! Services (or any part thereof) with or without notice.” In other words, Yahoo can shut down anything you’ve got your data in, at any time, for any reason, and they don’t owe you squat.

To be fair, these are standard clauses for almost any web application TOS, and Yahoo was actually pretty up-front when it came to shutting down Delicious (and then, due to outcry, selling it instead). What should worry the data-conscious among us is that Yahoo is in turmoil and its users’ data is its greatest asset. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Yahoo may start shuttering services more forcefully and less carefully than in the past. Or, worse, Yahoo may be tempted to get into some very onerous data-mining and profile-scraping to keep the lights on and hold position as the number four game in town.

Facebook is making flashy moves to justify a $100 billion pre-IPO valuation, but they’re courting goodwill right now. Yahoo is fighting for its life. Which company would you more gladly trust with your data, and which should you be wary of? I know where my attention will be.

If you’re a user of Yahoo services, I hope you’ve got a good backup plan.

How one admin mistake cost a Flickr user 4000 photos

Send to Kindle
Image representing Flickr as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

We come today not to bury Flickr but to praise it. Any service that can competently manage 5 billion images is worthy of admiration, and the Flickr interface and platform have long been posterchildren for user-friendly and effective web applications. That’s what makes this post from the New York Observer so noteworthy:

Major, major stumble from Flickr today—a Zurich-based photoblogger says Flickr deleted his account by mistake and lost his 4,000 photos.

Mirco Wilhelm has the original files saved elsewhere, but the photos from his extensive Flickr collection had been linked to from all over the web, including the official Flickr blog. Those links will now point to deadspace. Additionally, the followers he had accumulated, tags, photo captions and copyright information have been wiped out and may not be restored.

So where did Flickr’s vaunted platform fail? What design wisdom can we derive from this object lesson? When can we expect the salient code-review article to be posted to Hacker News?

Never, because it wasn’t a design flaw or programming error that cost Mirco Wilhelm his 4000 photos. It was plain, old-fashioned user error.

Wilhelm, you see, had submitted a support ticket to Flickr some days before his mass-photo loss. He reported that another user was posting stolen photos to a Flickr account. The support ticket, naturally, included a link to Wilhelm’s own Flickr account. Unfortunately, the investigating Flickr admin simply mixed up the account IDs on the support ticket and deleted Wilhelm’s account rather than the suspect photo-thief’s. And like all suspected copyright-violating material, those photos were permanently erased from Flickr’s archive — with no way to get them back.

Wilhelm has the original photo files which he can laboriously re-upload, re-tag, re-group and re-label, but he can’t recreate the URLs associated with originals. He can’t get the community — or the link equity — of his Flickr account back. All because a single admin inadvertently transposed two identifier strings.

Human error is responsible for a third of all data loss. The Flickr admin’s mistake is entirely understandable (and increasingly likely to recur given that Flickr-parent Yahoo is laying off more employees and Flickr troubleshooters will grow more, not less, overworked). That said, this simple mistake cost Mirco Wilhelm years of work and investment in his Flickr account. You can’t put a price on that.

Backupify for Flickr could have restored much if not all of Mr. Wilhelm’s lost photos, including the upload dates, tags, descriptions and — most importantly — the original URLs of every image.

Once upon a time, hardware failure was the leading cause of data loss, with human error following closely behind. In the age of cloud storage, hardware error has been removed as a serious threat to data — but human error has grown in significance. With the convenience of cloud-based access comes the risk of that many more fallible human beings influencing (or erasing) your data. It could be an overtired admin. It could be hacker that gets ahold of your password. It could be you, simply mis-clicking your mouse with dire results.

No one can design a totally user-proof system — not even Flickr. That’s why you need a third-party backup, even in the cloud. As the Observer post notes, “Despite a growing reliance on cloud storage across industries, negligence or a rookie mistake by a new employee could irreversibly wipe out user data — be it Facebook friends, blog posts or a photographer’s oeurve.”

You can get 2 GB of Flickr backup for FREE with Backupify Personal. Set up takes less than five minutes. That’s a small price to pay to ensure your complete Flickr archive is safe.

Online storage may be safer than any single hard drive, but that’s not the same as your data being invulnerable. Just ask Mirco Wilhelm.

Hope you’ve got a good backup plan.

UPDATE: Flickr was able to eventually restore most of Mr. Wilhelm’s photos. And they’ve given him free Pro service for the next 25 years. While we’d like to believe Flickr would have gone to such extraordinary links for any customer that suffered such a loss — regardless of whether the blogosphere raised a PR stink over it — we humbly suggest that investing in a Backupify account is the safer bet than relying on the kindness of vendors.

4 Best Places to Migrate Your Delicious Links

Send to Kindle
Eviction NOTICE
Image by rickonine via Flickr

In case you hadn’t heard, Yahoo is shutting down several of its Web properties, most notably the Delicious link-sharing service. (Yahoo and Delicious have posted a vague response to the news leak, boiling down to “Yahoo wants rid of Delicious, so we hope someone else takes it over.”) That leaves Delicious users in a quandary — what do I do with my links now?

There are a number of sites you can transfer them to and enjoy much the same (if not more) functionality that existed on Delicious itself. Many of these services can directly import from Delicious, and for those that don’t, Yahoo will reportedly allow all users to export their Delicious links before shuttering the site. (And for those of you that used Backupify to archive your Delicious links, you know you’ve got an exportable/importable backup. Thus ends the shameless plug.)

Below are the four best options for your post-Delicious link life.

Pinboard.in is absolutely the best Delicious alternative, except that it isn’t free. You’ll pay a one-time fee of about $9 to signup (the cost escalates as Pinboard gets more users, so act now). For $25 a year, Pinboard will save a copy of the actual page you bookmarked a link to — forever — and will allow full text search against those snapshots. Here’s Pinboard’s own comparison of itself and Delicious. Pinboard isn’t quite the link discovery tool that Delicious was, but it’s probably the best pure link archiver out there.

Diigo is your preferred Delicious successor if link discovery and group linksharing is your main goal. Diigo has all the browser plugins and sharing widgets you could ask for, and it allows you to highlight and annotate any link (or page cache) you save, throw it in a public or private group, or label it with a public or private tag. The base level is free; if you want to do lots of highlighting or screencapping, you’ll need to spend $20 – $40 per year.

Licorize organizes your saved links into projects, so if Delicious was a Get Things Done tool for you, Licorize is the way to go. You can’t use traditional tagging, but that’s a feature, not a bug, as Licorize funnels every saved link into a kind of action item. Only save the links that actually lead to progress. Licorize is free, but if you want to share your projects with others, you’ll need to spend $5 per month.

Evernote is arguably the most popular notetaking — and content-saving — service available today. If archiving all your favorite links and page caches and camera snapshots and audio notes and anything else any web-connected device can capture  in one place is your primary goal, Evernote is the service for you. It lacks, however, any of Delicious’ public-facing tag tracking or global trending options. Evernote is your notebook of the web, so don’t use it if sharing is your main goal. Basic Evernote is free but your uploads are limited; you’ll pay $5 a month to take the brakes off and let others edit your notebooks.

Honorable mentions

Google Bookmarks – While strangely unconnected to other Google products, you can build Delicious-like functionality with lists — but it takes work. Still, it’s free, at least until Google abandons it like it did Wave.

Zootool – Similar to Delicious, but focused heavily on image sharing.

Connotea – An academic reference tool similar to Delicious, but with almost no public lists or tag sharing.

Faves.com – A more basic Delicious clone, which uses crude topic aggregation rather than conventional tagging to organize links.

Historio.us – A Delicious clone predicated on full-test search of links, with little to no group or tagging functionality.

Just remember, any online service can shut down at any time, and not all of them will be as professional about it as Yahoo. You may not get notice, and you very likely won’t get an export option. Protect the time, energy and data you’ve invested with a third-party backup like Backupify.

Because the smart ones always have a backup plan.

Google Me will be a friendlier version of Facebook…for better and for worse

Send to Kindle

The rumors are flying now that Google is going to flat-out clone Facebook with a new social network called Google Me. To pull this off, Google will have to break its current losing streak on social products. (Yes, Buzz, we’re looking at you. Go join Google Wave and Latitude over there in the shame corner.)

For Google Me to succeed, Facebook doesn’t have to lose. Google Me just has to offer something Facebook doesn’t — open standards. Wired sums it up thusly:

If Google’s legions of engineers really have been told to prioritize “Google Me,” or whatever this putative product might be called, its only chance is to give most of it away in the form of open standards, setting the stage for a multitude of interlinking social networks rather than the current system of “one network to rule them all.”

On the surface, this is great news. Google is notoriously more open than Facebook, and will almost certainly offer far more data portability than Facebook ever thought about. But there also a downside to Google stepping onto Facebook’s turf.

First, Google is prone to rather heinous privacy gaffes, much of which are a function of its scale. When Buzz exposed your Gmail contacts, that was a huge issue, in large part because Gmail is the product for power webmail users. Similarly, when Google started mapping Wi-Fi hotspots in a manner that involved packet-sniffing, it gathered a huge swath of data because the Wi-Fi maps were intended to cover the entire continental US. If Google Me has a privacy stumble, odds are lots of data will be laid out for the world to see because Google never gathers a small data set. And there’s plenty of history to suggest that will happen.

Moreover, Google is a prime hacker target, and not just because it’s feuding with Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple. Google has national enemies, most notably China. Being based on open standards will make Google Me easier to hack, and will also mean that far more third-party sites will be able to download your data and then carelessly expose it — just like with Facebook.

Like most folks, we’ll celebrate the day Google Me launches and we get a real, viable Facebook alternative. But we’ll also take some serious privacy precautions — and we’ll have a backup plan.

Your Webmail is safe from employer snooping — maybe

Send to Kindle
Australia's Email Spy Plan
Image by publik16 via Flickr

It’s a pretty well established point of law that you don’t own your employee e-mail account, your employer does. Thus anything included in your employee e-mail account is fair game for human resources or your employer’s lawyers — you have no defensible expectation of privacy on corporate systems. But what about personal e-mail accounts you access on corporate computers on the corporate network via the corporate Internet connection?

Well, personal e-mail is still private, even at work. Loving Care health services found this out when they copied employee Marina Stengart’s Yahoo mail correspondence to her lawyer made on a company laptop. The Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that such copying was a violation of Stengart’s legal expectation of privacy.

This was only true, however, because Loving Care’s security policy doesn’t explicitly lay claim to private communications made over corporate systems. Thus, even your password-protected Gmail account could be fair game if you sent any Gmail messages using corporate equipment. The New Jersey Supreme Court said that snooping on employee Yahoo Mail messages sent from work PCs was illegal only because the cited company security policy laid claim solely to “all matters on the company’s media systems and services at any time.” Loving Care didn’t own Stengart’s Yahoo Mail account, so the policy didn’t apply — even if Stengart sent messages from a company PC over the company network in the company office during business hours.

The default position is that your privacy is protected so long as the company doesn’t warn you it’s allowed to snoop. If Loving Care’s policy had read “we reserve right to copy and access any personal communications sent by any means from company assets,” Stengart would have been hosed. Your e-mail privacy extends only so far as your employer’s e-mail policy is vague.

Bear that in mind the next time you send snarky comments about your boss to friends from a work PC. Gmail may be relatively secure, but no password is immune from a court order.