I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming more responsible for my digital property in 2014. It’s not just the scandal with the NSA. It’s realizing how much of one’s life is essentially tied up in strings of “1’s” and “0’s” stored on large corporate-owned servers. If there is one thing I’ve learned in 2013, it’s how fundamentally essential my digital information is to my personal well-being.
This general attitude has only been reinforced since I heard from a friend who lost $10,000 dollars in BitCoin when he cancelled a cloud account without including proper backup. At first it sounded outlandish to be so invested in pieces of information that essentially didn’t exist beyond their presence on a third party server. Then I thought of the copious amounts of ebooks, apps, and music I “owned” but that could be easily rescinded by the party in charge of the DRM.
So in 2013 I will be trying out some new resolutions, not just to ensure my own information is secure, but to really become part of the collective solution that will eventually be needed to solve the issue.
1.) Use Non-Proprietary and DRM-free file formats
I think one of the main ways to ensure privacy is to establish boundaries between data owned by the user and the data owned by the service. Nothing has hurt this distinction more than existence of pervasive DRM. By now everyone if familiar with horror stories of people loosing their collection of ebooks or mp3’s based on legalistic mismanagement on the part of Amazon or Apple. But beyond ridiculous worst-case scenarios, the truly destructive part of DRM is the implicit understanding it embodies that a user does not own a digital piece of media the way they own a physical copy of the same material. In order for any sort of rational concept of information ownership to emerge, DRM must go.
For myself this is a daunting task. Like most users of my generation I bought into the digital marketplace early and without thinking of the in infrastructure I was creating. As a result I have invested thousands in media formats that are DRM locked. Yes, I can strip it off, but this takes time and is not exactly legal. For the time being, at least I can stick to the formats that are open. No more kindle books or iTunes media.
2.) Use the Open Source Alternative
Alright, Alright. I have already written about the general futility of trying to work without proprietary software. But I am also sick and tired of companies abusing their market dominance of applications to rope people’s data into their own personal cloud systems. There is no way to survive (in the corporate world at least) without Microsoft Office; but I’ve noticed increasingly that the application is trying to move my documents from the hard drive to the cloud. Creepy, but especially creepy considering that, due to Microsoft’s dominance, the open source alternatives for word processing and spreadsheet management provide no real alternative in a modern work flow.
For the time being it’s baby steps: using Firefox instead of Google Chrome, GIMP instead of Adobe Photoshop. Though, it might be a while before I can ditch iTunes or Microsoft Office.
3.) Keep Updated With Privacy News and Networks
There are plenty of ways to keep abreast of the various updates to the status of online privacy. However, I have to confess, as much as I love talking about privacy in the abstract, I hate actually following the day-to-day news concerning which new groups have, most recently, been abusing digital privacy. Still, there is no real way to handle the issue without being informed. Not to mention, I’d be a bit of a hypocrite to complain about user apathy when I can’t be bothered to read a three page article about the new Google terms of service.
I should have my work cut out for me for the next year. I also plan to exercise regularly, sustain a low-carb diet, and lose ten pounds; but, of course, that should resolution should be relatively easy to keep.