The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

“You don't really own your data, as much as we let you use it”

I made a comment recommending against using “the cloud” to store your data on GoogleFacePlusBook and someone took offense to that remark. I know, I know, but in my defense, we were both in the wrong, and in the end I hope we all learned something. I learned that “buying a book” is more “licensing to read” than actual ownership (even the dead tree type, and this from a lawyer I called (and if I knew his website, I would link to it here)) and the other person learned that yes, Virginia, you can successfully sue Amazon for having eaten your homework.

I still stand on my original remark, not to use “the cloud” to store your data. To present your data (like pictures, idiotic blog posts, what have you) to the public, sure, use “the cloud.” To store your data (or even a backup of your data)? Not on your life.

I do have my reasons and they range from the reasonable (it's not reliable, as even Google has bad hair days), the debatable (you have no control over your data as in the aforementioned Amazon eating your homework, sites going down with little to no notification) to the downright “wearing a tin hat in a shack in the woods” (actual remark by the other person, and here we go into government snooping through your data in “the cloud”—and if you think you are not a “person of interest” I'm sure Ted Kennedy never thought he would be on the “No Fly List”—ponder that for a while).

But it didn't occure to me that a company hosting “the cloud” could concievably mine your own data—I mean, it's there, right? And then I read this little gem of an article:

… Target has a baby-shower registry, and Pole started there, observing how shopping habits changed as a woman approached her due date, which women on the registry had willingly disclosed. He ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. …

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She's still in high school, and you're sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn't have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man's daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there's been some activities in my house I haven't been completely aware of. She's due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Via Hacker News, How Companies Learn Your Secrets

Okay, it's not about a company mining “the cloud,” but it does illustrate just how much data we willingly (or unknowingly) give out.

Update a few minutes later

Perhaps government overreach isn't quite as “tin hat crazy” as I thought …

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