The tech helper: Is your data safe online? (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Aug 18, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - Worried about the safety or privacy of the data you leave online? It's a legitimate concern. After all, online photo galleries, forums, and cloud computing applications all tempt you both to create content online and to leave it there. But just how safe is your data? Read on for some answers.
Q: I keep a gallery of my photos on a popular photography site. What happens if the site goes bankrupt? Will I lose all of my photos?
A: Sites do out of business - or, in the case of smaller websites, simply close up shop. So you're wise to be concerned about what would happen to your online gallery if the worst beset the site that houses your gallery.
How much you have to worry, though, depends upon two things: the financial stability or backing of the site that hosts your gallery, and the site's terms of service (TOS). Regarding the latter, you should make a point of printing out and reading the TOS for any site that houses your personal data, including photographs. You need to know not only what might happen to your gallery if the site went out of business, but also what rights, if any, the site claims over the content you upload.
Some sites, for instance, do not exclude being able to use the photos you upload in advertising or promotional materials. If you can't find such information in the TOS, contact the owner of the site. If you cannot reach him or her or you are not satisfied with the answer you receive, consider taking down your gallery.
As to the site's longevity or stability, the best you can do is to make an educated guess based upon what you know of the owner of the site. Flickr, for instance, is owned by Yahoo! While Yahoo's stock has suffered more than, say, Google's, it's probably a safe assumption that Yahoo! isn't going anywhere soon - and if it does, its assets, including Flickr, are likely to be purchased by an entity that will continue the popular Flickr service. Other, smaller sites might be susceptible to the vicissitudes of the financial markets or of an owner's liquidity. Bottom line: don't put anything irreplaceable online, and of course always keep a copy of your files at home.
Q: I'm attracted by the idea of Google Docs, but I'm afraid of keeping my personal files online. How can I know that the data is safe and private?
A: In terms of the safety of your files, you're unlikely to find a safer online repository for your work than Google Docs (http://docs.google.com), simply because Google employs massive redundancy in its data storage centres. That said, however, you are still dealing with files on computers, and any time computers are involved, there's a risk of losing data. So if you use Google Docs, or any other program in the cloud or at home, it's imperative that you back up your data. The good news is that Google Docs now makes it easy to 'export' all of your files to your local drive. Do this on a regular basis, and certainly whenever you've created or updated a critical document.
Q: I participate in several forums online, and I made the mistake of using my real name as my screen name. Now I'm concerned about privacy, yet there does not seem to be a way to change my user name on these sites. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Many sites make it easy to change your password but difficult or impossible to change your user name, once created. However, there are real people behind all of these sites, so your best bet may be to contact the site's administrator. Look on the footer of the site. There, you'll usually find a Contact link that you can use to send a message to an admin. Ask that your user name be changed, and in the note indicate what you would like the new name to be, as well as what your current user name is.
The software that runs most forums on the internet makes it easy for administrators to change someone's user name.