‘Digital Amnesia’ a Threat to Personal Data

As personal data shifts from devices to the cloud, consumers risk losing their content.

Intel security architecture engineer Steve Grobman concerned about private data

"It's really about who is accountable for assuring the continuity of the digital content you care about. In the past, users would be held accountable for backing up their own data, but lately it has shifted to providers," said Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer.

The volume of data generated by personal devices is exploding. The privacy and security of that personal data is top of mind for many people but there’s an even more insidious threat — having all your personal data simply vanish into thin air.

The shift to cloud computing has, in part, encouraged the flood of personal data and therein lies the danger of so-called “digital amnesia,” according to Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer. People are entrusting massive amounts of valuable data to Facebook, Google, Flickr, WordPress and other social media sites. Without a rigorous digital backup plan, all that personal content could dissolve into a black hole never to be seen again.

“One day it could all disappear because these companies are not obligated to give back all of your content if for some reason they fold,” said Grobman. “This becomes critical as the amount of data we’re creating is growing exponentially.”

Grobman, a software guy who in the early 2000s helped Intel chips run Apple computer operating systems and is now on loan to McAfee CTO Mike Fey, points out that recently Facebook, Google, Twitter and other services began allowing people to download all of their content. He is concerned, however, that many consumers lack the wherewithal to manage and truly preserve their growing collection of data.

“I extracted all of my YouTube, Gmail and photos from Google and it was huge, about 300 gigabytes just from a few years,” he said. “If we constantly trickle data in (to these Internet-based services) and want to mass extract it at some point in time, how do we deal with all of this data?”

More Personal Data = More Value to Lose

Digital amnesia — the loss or inaccessibility over time of digital content — may be unavoidable in the face of ever-advancing technologies, which make it difficult to nearly impossible for people to access files created with older technologies.

Facebook Personal Data Archive Download

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other services recently began allowing people to download all their personal content.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York recently attempted to resurrect an artwork created on the Internet more than a decade ago, but the software code wouldn’t operate on today’s technology. The current generation of Ultrabook and tablet computers can’t play DVDs, CDs or floppy disks at all or without the help of an external media reader.

As people own more individual computing devices and use them all to create and access content, the cloud has only become more appealing as a digital warehouse for all that data.

Though cloud services have become more feasible, according to Grobman, the services could do a better job of backing up, replicating and storing personal data. These services may evolve over time so the data can be accessed in the future at an even lower cost or for free. Grobman warns, however, that with these free services, the traditional business relationship doesn’t exist, in fact consumer data has become the product for many companies that sell advertising.

“It’s really about who is accountable for assuring the continuity of the digital content you care about,” he said. “In the past, users would be held accountable for backing up their own data, but lately it has shifted to providers.”

Personal Devices Become Disposable Content Generators

No longer are people creating content on a PC or moving it to a PC from another device such as a digital camera before uploading and sharing.

GoogleTakeaway Personal Data Download

"When selecting a content storage service, first find out how easy is it to bulk export your content so you have an offline copy," said Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer.

“The PC was a person’s digital hub, but now the user is at the center and they’re using multiple devices for everything,” said Grobman. “Now we’re seeing much more direct-from-device to cloud sharing. This actually makes the problem worse as the device becomes a disposable content generator.”

The resulting shift has moved the focus from devices to users, and those users are relying on a multitude of devices to create, share and access their data and content.

“Now we must protect a person regardless of what device they are using as they wander around the cloud,” he said. “And with more storage on devices and the ease of moving things into the cloud, now there is no penalty for creating and storing an infinite amount of content.”

Strategy for Personal Data and Content

Grobman posits that cloud services may be the best way for consumers to manage their content, but warns that people need to diligently protect their personal data so that if Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, iCloud or other services go out of business it won’t disappear. Even if there’s a way to extract data, that data is likely stored in a manner that is unrecoverable except by the service provider, according to Grobman.

“When selecting a content storage service, first find out how easy is it to bulk export your content so you have an offline copy, and rather than having just one, choose a set of cloud service providers just to be safe,” said Grobman. “Be hyper-vigilant about the cloud company’s health because at the first sign indicating that the company is in trouble you should extract your data. Today we’re trusting companies with our data and they may not be around in next few decades.”

‘Digital Amnesia’ a Threat to Personal Data

As personal data shifts from devices to the cloud, consumers risk losing their content.

Intel security architecture engineer Steve Grobman concerned about private data

"It's really about who is accountable for assuring the continuity of the digital content you care about. In the past, users would be held accountable for backing up their own data, but lately it has shifted to providers," said Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer.

The volume of data generated by personal devices is exploding. The privacy and security of that personal data is top of mind for many people but there’s an even more insidious threat — having all your personal data simply vanish into thin air.

The shift to cloud computing has, in part, encouraged the flood of personal data and therein lies the danger of so-called “digital amnesia,” according to Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer. People are entrusting massive amounts of valuable data to Facebook, Google, Flickr, WordPress and other social media sites. Without a rigorous digital backup plan, all that personal content could dissolve into a black hole never to be seen again.

“One day it could all disappear because these companies are not obligated to give back all of your content if for some reason they fold,” said Grobman. “This becomes critical as the amount of data we’re creating is growing exponentially.”

Grobman, a software guy who in the early 2000s helped Intel chips run Apple computer operating systems and is now on loan to McAfee CTO Mike Fey, points out that recently Facebook, Google, Twitter and other services began allowing people to download all of their content. He is concerned, however, that many consumers lack the wherewithal to manage and truly preserve their growing collection of data.

“I extracted all of my YouTube, Gmail and photos from Google and it was huge, about 300 gigabytes just from a few years,” he said. “If we constantly trickle data in (to these Internet-based services) and want to mass extract it at some point in time, how do we deal with all of this data?”

More Personal Data = More Value to Lose

Digital amnesia — the loss or inaccessibility over time of digital content — may be unavoidable in the face of ever-advancing technologies, which make it difficult to nearly impossible for people to access files created with older technologies.

Facebook Personal Data Archive Download

Facebook, Google, Twitter and other services recently began allowing people to download all their personal content.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York recently attempted to resurrect an artwork created on the Internet more than a decade ago, but the software code wouldn’t operate on today’s technology. The current generation of Ultrabook and tablet computers can’t play DVDs, CDs or floppy disks at all or without the help of an external media reader.

As people own more individual computing devices and use them all to create and access content, the cloud has only become more appealing as a digital warehouse for all that data.

Though cloud services have become more feasible, according to Grobman, the services could do a better job of backing up, replicating and storing personal data. These services may evolve over time so the data can be accessed in the future at an even lower cost or for free. Grobman warns, however, that with these free services, the traditional business relationship doesn’t exist, in fact consumer data has become the product for many companies that sell advertising.

“It’s really about who is accountable for assuring the continuity of the digital content you care about,” he said. “In the past, users would be held accountable for backing up their own data, but lately it has shifted to providers.”

Personal Devices Become Disposable Content Generators

No longer are people creating content on a PC or moving it to a PC from another device such as a digital camera before uploading and sharing.

GoogleTakeaway Personal Data Download

"When selecting a content storage service, first find out how easy is it to bulk export your content so you have an offline copy," said Steve Grobman, an Intel security architecture engineer.

“The PC was a person’s digital hub, but now the user is at the center and they’re using multiple devices for everything,” said Grobman. “Now we’re seeing much more direct-from-device to cloud sharing. This actually makes the problem worse as the device becomes a disposable content generator.”

The resulting shift has moved the focus from devices to users, and those users are relying on a multitude of devices to create, share and access their data and content.

“Now we must protect a person regardless of what device they are using as they wander around the cloud,” he said. “And with more storage on devices and the ease of moving things into the cloud, now there is no penalty for creating and storing an infinite amount of content.”

Strategy for Personal Data and Content

Grobman posits that cloud services may be the best way for consumers to manage their content, but warns that people need to diligently protect their personal data so that if Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, iCloud or other services go out of business it won’t disappear. Even if there’s a way to extract data, that data is likely stored in a manner that is unrecoverable except by the service provider, according to Grobman.

“When selecting a content storage service, first find out how easy is it to bulk export your content so you have an offline copy, and rather than having just one, choose a set of cloud service providers just to be safe,” said Grobman. “Be hyper-vigilant about the cloud company’s health because at the first sign indicating that the company is in trouble you should extract your data. Today we’re trusting companies with our data and they may not be around in next few decades.”