Do not trust web services with your data

Shortly after writing The Fake News Cure, I came across two articles by Kit Perez: Digital Privacy Laziness and How to set up an information feed. From the fact that I am linking these, you can gather that I don’t mind them getting attention, so go a give them a read. It’s not required for the rest of my article, though, because I am going to nit-pick on a single advice given there.

In Digital Privacy Laziness, Kit points out that people tend to be way too willing to hand their data over to the big ones: He names Facebook and Twitter.

Then he links his article on how to set up an information feed and recommends using tools like feedly and pocket. Both of which are web services that allow you to store and view your feeds. Web services mean “hey, I am willing to hand my data over to some provider”. In this case, a curated collection of your interests. This is gigantic.

Facebook has to deduce your interests from your likes. If something does not have a Facebook presence (in the wider sense of making it available to Facebook by including their buttons), they do not know about your interest there. Admittedly, it is not hard to deduce, since the white spots on Facebook’s map grow smaller and because they have the really smart people working on it, but it is still a step behind actively putting your interests in front of someone. And Facebook has to fight itself on this: With them becoming one of the most important advertisement venues, exploiting their “like” system is valuable to a lot of companies. Try sorting through that…

Anyway, you cannot trust any collector of data to handle it well. Especially if they are free to use, because as overused as the trope is: If you are not the customer, you are the product being sold [footnote]And even if you’re the customer, every economist will tell you that by making you pay for a service and selling your data, you can make more money than by selling the service alone[/footnote]. WhatsApp was worth 19 billion. Not as a technology [footnote]The only brillant thing about it was the economic part of exploiting cheap telco provider offers for SMS bundles. Every developer worth their salt could have eaten alphabet soup and shit the rest of the code[/footnote], but as a database of users, their friends and as a nexus of communication. Wonder what feedly is worth?

The solution is to do it yourself, as I wrote in my opening article about leaving Twitter and Facebook. You need a reader with locally stored data. There is the problem, of course: Without webservices, it won’t synchronize easily with your devices. That’s a costly price to pay.

I myself do not exactly follow my advice: I use the feed reader at mailbox.org, which is running Open-Xchange. That’s a web service. That’s stupid. Except I wrote that reader myself. And I know the company that builds it. And I know enough about the owner of the company hosting it. But that’s me. I am just someone talking to you on the internet. I could be fake, trying to entice you to use an insecure system. And it is not like you want to read the source code of Open-Xchange to check out whether what I say is true. Trust me, your sanity is worth more. Others have enjoyed it, though [footnote]To be precise: When we went open-source in 2004, German-speakers enjoyed the cursing and personal insults in source code quite a bit[/footnote].

The solution for you is to find a good offline reader. I tried last year and did not succeed. I promise to write one once I get my next vacation, but until then, something like Thunderbird (oh, by the way, who handles your mail?) might be your best choice.