Tagdigital rights

Recollecting my Instagrams & other social data

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So, Instragram announced updates to their Terms of Services. Nothing unusual about it, really, only that the updates seem to be aimed at monetizing by allowing advertisers to use your photos without prior notice or consent (besides agreeing to the ToS, obviously).

Now, often times ToS changes trigger all kinds of resentment by the user base, and in many cases it’s a matter of legalese or bad communications. Say, if a service requires consent to copying and distributing your content: Copying and distributing can easily sound like selling or licensing or doing other weird things with your data, while it might just be necessary to run the service you signed up for. After all, you can’t store a digital image without making copies of it. That kinda thing.

That said, Instagram’s new ToS seem to be more directly aimed at advertisers, and as such it’s a different game altogether. Furthermore, they’re now part of Facebook, and as such – in my eyes – much less trustworthy than a year ago. Facebook has a horrible track record of abusing users’ trust, for example by changing default privacy settings and making it unnecessarily hard to opt out of new features. So personally I’m not willing to give Instagram/Facebook the benefit of the doubt on this one.

 

But enough with the rant. The Instagram ToS kerfuffle was as good an excuse as any to eventually try out Recollect, a service run by good former Flickr engineers, who sources closer to the matter tell me are good, trustworthy folks. Moreover, they’re building a service that charges users upfront, which seems to be to be a good model of building sustainable businesses.

So what does Recollect do? Simple – it backs up data from your social media accounts. I just had Recollect gather my Tweets, Instagram and Flickr photos as well as Foursquare check-ins. You can then proceed to download them to your local machine. (In the case of Instagram, it saves everything as HTML, so you get to keep not just your photos, but faves, comments, etc.) It’s simple, and a useful thing to do if you think that archiving your data is useful at all.

Recollecting Screenshot of the Recollect dashboard. Note the activity on the different services, and how they changed over time.

 

A nice side effect: The dashboard shows you your activity on these other services. In my case, as you can see in the screenshot, I saved more than 12.000 items, including 7.500+ Flickr photos and about 1.500 Foursquare check-ins.

I won’t be losing much Instagram: Since the Android app only came out this year, I have less than 400 photos there, it’s really a minor problem. (I also had them automatically cross-posted to Flickr anyway.) It’s just a bit of a bummer that Twitter introduced an API limit awhile ago, allowing only about the last 3.000 tweets to be accessed – so for me that means I’m about six years short on Twitter archives. Which is pretty bad, and another reason to back up data there as it passes through.

I’ve only been testing Recollect for a single day yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep using it and will be happy to pay the monthly fee for a reliable backup and the option to export my data whenever I choose. Recommended!

Slides “Neue Medien – Fluch oder Segen”

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The other day I visited Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) for a day to give a keynote speech and a workshop for FES stipends at the summer academy. (Full disclosure: paid gig.) For completeness’ sake I’m posting the slides below. In order for them to make sense I’d recommend downloading the file from Slideshare so you can see the notes.

On a side note, I have to say I really enjoyed particularly the discussions with these students. We talked a lot about privacy on social networks and the implications of using these online services. I was surprised on more than one occasion: Not a lot of the participants use smartphones, which may be a budget thing given they’re all still studying. The crowd was much more critical of online social networking than I expected. (There was a strong split in the group, with those seeing chances rather than risks on one side and those highly critical of social networks on the other.)

Two things became very clear, though: (1) Just like German society overall this group had a significant part of online critics (with varying degrees of informed argumentation). (2) All of them are acutely – almost painfully – aware of the role of privacy and how it’s being affected by voluntary participation in online sharing behavior (social networking, Twitter etc), involuntary sharing (government involvement) and commercialization (all major actors are international corporations).

While I wished the overall discourse (on a societal level) about the complex issues of privacy/ownership/control of data online was based on a more informed basis, it’s very clear that we’ll be having this discussion for awhile to come. And that’s good: Keep thinking, discussing, debating. Just please make sure to stay away from panic and fear driven rhetoric as well as hyperbole. And if you happen to encounter such arguments, feel free to drop in some facts and see the fear go away.

Google Streetview in Germany, some thoughts

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A little while ago I wrote a little rant about the fake Streetview Google had launched in Germany, an odd Google Maps & Panoramio hybrid. Eventually that’s about to change: Google Streetview is coming to Germany for real.

And boy, are people in Germany going crazy over this.

On the one hand you have those who thing that having public spaces accessible online is a good thing (including yours truly). One the other you have those who claim that it’s the end of privacy, illegitimate commercialism by a global corporation or that it helps burglars.

These critics spread – or buy into – a hyperbole like I haven’t seen in a long time. They are, I daresay, going absolutely nuts.

Why is this important? Because there’s practically no privacy risk, the burglar argument is completely bogus (not even burglars are so stupid, and statistics show that there’s no correlation of Streetview and break-ins) – while on the other hand a service like Streeview is incredibly useful for all kinds of legitimate uses.

DW-World sums it up nicely:

“Behind all of these criticisms here in Germany is the fear that Google might be too powerful, while being too strange and intransparent,” [law professor] Hoeren told Deutsche Welle. “It’s not really about data collection, telecommunications and privacy and such.”

If you understand German, Mario Sixtus wrote a fantastic piece on the subject. His take: trying to restrict a service like Google, including giving house owners the right to have photos of their houses removed from the service, is an attack on all our rights to the public space.

I couldn’t agree more.

The fact that many media outlets and politicians chime in with the rest of the criticism (or rather, take a lead in the fear mongering) doesn’t make their claims any more substantial or legitimate. Either we protect those rights, or we’ll lose them. And I’d like to keep living in a country where everyone – yes, even large corporations – are allowed to pick up a camera, take photos of buildings* in public and share these photos online.

(*Photos of people are a different matter altogether, but that isn’t what Google is doing here.)

Full disclaimer: I’ve worked with Google before and I’m a member of the Google Internet & Society Collaboratory. I still think that Google’s new stance on Net Neutrality sucks.

Pros and cons of net neutrality clearly laid out

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Opposing Views, a debating platform where experts go head-to-head on all kinds of issues, has put up a discussion page about net neutrality:

Net neutrality is the principle that says all information flowing across the Internet should be treated equally. But with more people streaming data-rich video and playing online games, the Internet faces congestion concerns. Should carriers be able to sell multi-tiered access to heavy users? Should sites that generate massive traffic — like Google and Yahoo! — pay extra fees? The U.S. Government is examining Net Neutrality and its financial, legal and social implications. Do we need federal intervention to ensure fairness, or is this an issue for the market to work out?

Since net neutrality is of those topics that are very rich, complex and to some degree opaque, this is a great way to get an overview.

(via TechCrunch)

CCC Freedom Stick, Olympics Special Edition

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It’s been around for awhile, but CCC‘s Freedom Stick, a memory stick loaded with powerful privacy software, is now also available in an Olympics Special edition: CCC – China – Privacy Emergency Response Team, extra easy to use for non-technical users. It consists mainly of a TOR anonymizer plus mobile FireFox.

Freedom Stick, image courtesy of CCC Image: CCC

Who’s it for? “Especially for people with little experience it is important to have simple solutions to break through walls. For this reason we present the FreedomStick.” And by walls, they refer to the Great Firewall.

Using TOR and mobile FireFox, your connection will be quite a bit slower. But that seems like a pretty fair price to pay for not leaving any traces online.

The software and a tutorial is available here. (If you’d like to support a non-profit while preserving your privacy, German privacy fighters FoeBud sell a memory stick loaded with the software for fundraising, it’s available for €20.)

You donated $9.55 to EFF through my ads (thanks!)

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A little while back, I proposed to run social ads on blogs and to donate the revenue. This, it seemed, would be the easiest way to raise some funds and to donate money, paying with your attention. Eyeballs for money, the usual model for ads, applied in a social way. Here’s the ad I put on my blog. Every time someone clicked the ad, some money came in through Google Adsense:

Of course the deal is still on: Click the ad, I’ll donate for a good cause.

Not too many people clicked, but those of you who did raised $9.55. Not huge, but not so bad for just a few clicks, eh?

EFF.orgSo this time, a round $10 will go went to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help protect bloggers rights and our privacy. The money raised in August will go to Stiftung Bridge (“Bridge Foundation”), a German non-profit that fights for digital rights by supporting small projects.

Thanks a lot, all of you. And please consider doing the same thing.