Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

A Brief History of Privacy

Remember the 15 year-old kid who was videotaped waving around a golf ball retriever while pretending it was a light saber in 2002? The video was uploaded – unknowingly – to an Internet video site by some of the boy’s friends. All across the Internet, people started mocking him, making fun of his awkward maneuvers. Then, several edited videos of “the Star Wars Kid” started to be uploaded, adorned with special effects. It was a breach of privacy that made this kid an internet sensation.

Privacy has a very long history. In fact, privacy in America has gone through drastic changes since the 1600′s as you can see in this chart. Fortunately, methods of protecting privacy are always evolving and getting better. Unfortunately, security breaches will always occur.

The legal concept of privacy in the United States states that if you intend to keep something secret then it shall, in fact, be kept secret. All other information is considered public. However, the societal concept of privacy is a bit more complicated and has been for a very long time. For example, many people have a strong desire to share experiences, anecdotes, photos, videos and souvenirs. However, those same people don’t like when others they didn’t invite to share in those experiences have access to this information. Then the question shifts to – ‘Who can I trust with this shared data?’

Controlling privacy online requires effort. It can result in a paradox where we can be unaware of how much information we are sharing and with whom we are sharing it. Danah Boyd, an anthropologist and social networking expert says, “information is not private because no one knows it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled.”

Managing online privacy is difficult because we do not have the degree of control we would have in an offline environment. However, there are protective options available. Since inception, SpiderOak has been very focused and passionate about online privacy. This lead to the creation of our 100% ‘zero-knowledge’ privacy approach to storing users’ data. More recently, we have worked closely with our friends at Electronic Frontier Foundation who are continually active in protecting the digital rights of online users.

How important is privacy to you? Do you have any stories you’d like to share where your privacy was compromised? How has it changed your online activity? Please don’t hesitate to write your thoughts and/or ideas and ways you protect your privacy.

On a related note and if interested further, I encourage you to read a good book on this topic – “Privacy and Big Data”.

Biggest Privacy Faux Pas of 2011

Though it’s impossible to account for all the data security breaches that happen, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, about 30 million records were compromised in 2011 in 535 separate breaches in the United States. Furthermore, those numbers reflect only the breaches reported. Many more go unknown or unreported. Many times, hackers are the culprit. However, a significant portion of the breaches come from inside the organization where an employee or agent with access to the data are at fault.

Unlike SpiderOak, some companies and services don’t encrypt information inside databases. This was the case with Sony. The Sony breach alone accounted for nearly 80 million records! Other breaches occurred because someone left a server wide open, leaving very sensitive or personal information accessible on the Internet. This was the case with Texas Comptroller, when 3.5 million people’s names, addresses, and social security information was open to the public. Some breaches were caused by carelessness, when backup tapes or laptops were stolen after being left in cars. This was the case with the Department of Veterans Affairs when 26.5 million veterans were exposed by an employee who took an unauthorized computer home.

Of course, how could we forget about the giant Dropbox breach who confessed that a bug in the service’s authentication software made passwords optional for a period of four hours. This allowed anyone to log into a user’s account simply by entering their user name. An estimated 25 million users’ accounts were compromised triggering a class action lawsuit.

As a company with the core focus on privacy and security, we know how important it is to safeguard your privacy and maintain internet safety standards. That is why we are happy to emphasize our Zero-Knowledge policy which allows only our users the ability to access their data. In addition, we are looking to certify other companies in the future who also adopt this approach. Stay tuned!

Living the CloudLife: Cloud Computing 101

Ever wonder just how far into the clouds you and your data are traveling? You are likely using multiple cloud-based services (including SpiderOak, we hope). Google offers software as a free online service to billions of users across the globe. The Internet giant hosts a set of online productivity tools and applications that live in the cloud such as email (Gmail), word processing (Google Docs), calendars (Google Calendar), photo sharing (Picassa), and website creation tools. And whereas you may not think of those services in ‘cloud’ terms, that is exactly what they are. So when someone asks you to define cloud computing, it may seem difficult at first to explain. Try asking that question to 5 of your friends and you’ll probably get five different answers.

There are many ideas of the ‘cloud’. Often wrapped in marketing lingo, definitions fly all over the net. And while they don’t clearly define cloud computing and what makes it different, they sure make it sound good. In essence, cloud computing means having every piece of data available via the Internet anytime you need it. Wikipedia defines it as “the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).”

Do you (or can you) remember when there wasn’t a cloud? Before the cloud emerged, there was software-as-a-service computing. Instead of data pipes and routers and servers, the cloud brings full fledged services. The underlying hardware and software of networking remains of course but there are now higher level service capabilities available to build applications.

Every day new start-ups present options for cloud computing. If we follow these trends, the computer merely becomes a gateway into the cloud – removing the need for onboard storage and freeing consumers to leap from one device to another depending on their requirements.

The days of downloading and installing memory-hogging applications on their device will be gone and replaced a powerful Internet browser capable of accessing and computing. However, we are not quite there yet as there are many drawbacks to this system still. The first is accessibility as we still don’t live in a fully connected world where the Internet is accessible everywhere. Further, there are critical security and privacy concerns and who ultimately has access to what data (an issue we worked hard to solve at SpiderOak with our ‘zero-knowledge’ privacy).

The idea of handing over critical data to a 3rd party company still worries many people – and with good reason. Ultimately, users adopt a hybrid approach where some data lives in the cloud and runs off of cloud applications while other more valuable data stays firmly on their machine.

As you are aware, we at SpiderOak are very passionate about privacy and security. In fact, the founders – Ethan and Alan – created SpiderOak to dis-spell the myth that just because data is online doesn’t mean that it cannot be completely private. We believe, as hope more and more companies will agree, it is in the users best interest to employ the most advanced techniques around protecting user data. This will only grow in importance as the cloud becomes more ubiquitous.

Another somewhat lesser known complaint about the ‘cloud’ relates to outages. In the ‘cloud’ world, we have come to expect that data should always be available. And when it is not we become very very impatient and frustrated. For example, imagine not being able to access email or an important business document. All companies suffer from outages as nothing can be perfect all the time (including us humans). Amazon, generally considered the gold standard, had devastating downtime last year that had millions of users suffering. Though no company can promise an outage-free service, there are methods in place to quickly restore service and make sure data is not lost.

Despite some of the drawbacks and a bit of hype, cloud computing remains a critical trend. Many of you have voiced your opinion on Facebook and Twitter on cloud computing. We would love for you to also sound off in the comments. How would you explain cloud computing to your mother? What do you think of cloud computing? What are some of your predictions for the next 5 to 10 years?

I’d love to look back at this blog post in 5 to 10 years to compare your thoughts!

A Little About Our Freedom Photo Contest Winner

We had a fantastic number of contestants. The photographic interpretation of freedom was interestingly wide. As suspected, it means something slightly different to all of us. The freedom photo contest allowed the important creative talent to shine and we appreciate all the entries and votes. Expressing freedom is important to all and it certainly has shown.

We caught up with contest winner, Terry Jones, to learn a little more about the winning photo:

“The reason I chose this picture, was in no small part due to the ‘relief’ and ‘Freedom’ a parent feels when their children are sleeping. Usually at the age of my daughter (6 months old, at the time), getting your child to sleep is a hard thought and demanding process. Once they are asleep, only then are you released, and set free for that small window of time, thus allowing me to further enjoy using my cloud storage at SpiderOAK.”

As our grand prize winner, Jones will receive $100 and 100 GBs.

When we asked Jones how he will use the winnings, he replied:

“I plan on taking my two kids to Chipmunks Playland which is a childrens indoor activity center, as well as get them some new clothes I guess.”

We encourage you to post your congratulations in the comments section below. You can see all the stunning entries on our Freedom Photo Contest Album on our Facebook or Flickr page.

Why Should SpiderOak Choose You to Go Into the Clouds?

It’s that time of year again. Very soon the birds will start their migration toward snowbound northern cities, the first buds of spring will sprout on trees. At the same time, hordes of college students will descend on the beaches of Mexico, the Caribbean and the southern U.S. – turning them into cesspools of sunburn bodies, margaritas and wet T-shirt contests. Ah, spring break.

Spring Break is also a time for college students from around the world to get together and celebrate being young and loving life. In just a few months and/or years most students will have to emerge into the real world (whatever that means). More than 250,000 students will be traveling with friends, family, neighbors, dogs, cats, etc to enjoy the festivities. Reminiscing – it hasn’t been too long since I was in that position. In fact, many of us at SpiderOak remember those days vividly. And we understand how complicated the planning can be. As such – we would like to help you get to your destination by sending you up into the clouds.

There are a number of times in your life where you might need to write an essay or explain why you deserve that ‘top’ spot. These essays are designed to test two major elements: 1) your ability to write well; and 2) your ability to persuade. A beautifully written essay that doesn’t persuade the reader is of no use to you; similarly, a poorly written essay with a strong argument is just as useless. We want to put those skills of yours to use. As my middle school teacher used to tell the class, “put your thinking caps on!”

Essay Instructions

First – Write a few paragraphs (no more than 500 words) on why you should be chosen to receive a $300 American Airline gift card to fly anywhere you want.

Second – You can post your essay on Facebook, Google+, or even your own blog (providing a link).

Third – Tell your friends and family! You do not have to be a student. Anyone can enter!

Fourth – Each person may enter only one essay.

Fifth – Submit all entries by March 11th, 2012

The grand prize winner will be featured on our blog and asked where you went on your trip.

Grand prize: A $300 American Airline gift card to travel wherever your heart desires! We’ll also give you 10 GBs of storage if you promise to take lots of pictures and back them up from your trip. Don’t worry, what is uploaded on SpiderOak, stays on SpiderOak. Zero-knowldge and all that… ;-)

1st and 2nd runner up will receive 10 GBs to store your precious moments as well.

Judging Guidelines:

  • Essays will be judged by your peers and our panel of experts on the SpiderOak team.
  • The judges decision will be final.
  • We are judging effectiveness, insightfulness, creativity, and completeness. As well as sentence structure, range of vocabulary, use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • 50% – Judges decision
  • 35% – Idea Content. Originality
  • 15% – Number of ‘Likes,’ Retweets, and shares on Google+.
  • Even if you don’t win the grand prize, we at SpiderOak want to wish you all safe travels and a good time. Be safe & remember that you only live once!

    Good luck!

    What Does Freedom Mean To You As A Cloud User?

    There’s been plenty of talk surrounding The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This bill had the consequence of allowing the US Government to ‘police’ the Internet and restrict peoples freedom to share content with others. We at SpiderOak – like many of our colleagues – found this simply unacceptable. And as all the voices rose up to combat the bill, thankfully it has currently been removed from consideration. At SpiderOak we believe in providing a FREE, innovative and private online backup, synchronization, and flexible sharing solution. So we’d like to get you involved in something special.

    What does freedom mean to you?

    Personally – freedom occupies the number one position on my values list. Nothing is more important. I neither take it for granted nor do I ever allow myself to be complacent about the many freedoms I enjoy personally. Others are of course free to agree or disagree. With this in mind and in the spirit of self expression, we would like you to show us how you feel.

    Show us what freedom means to you!

    First – Post your best photo interpretation of FREEDOM to the Facebook fan page wall. Your entry will be moved to the “Freedom Photo Contest Album” on the Facebook fan page from now until February 29, 2012.

    Second – Each participant is only allowed one entry. Submit your best photo interpretation of freedom.

    Third – Ask your friends to ‘Like,’ and/or follow SpiderOak on Facebook, Twitter. On Facebook, visit the designated album on Facebook and ‘like’ your entry. 50% of your rating will be based on the number of likes your photo received.

    Fourth – The winning 3 photos by midnight CST on February, 29 2012 will be awarded 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. Details of how these are judged are listed below.

    Fifth – Participant grants SpiderOak perpetual license to use photos submitted for advertising and collateral.

    Instructions for Twitter::
    Follow @SpiderOak on twitter.
    Simply tweet: “Just entered to win money in the #FreedomPhotoContest! Follow @SpiderOak and retweet my picture if you like it. Thanks!”

    The grand prize winner will have his/her photo published on our blog and a little about yourself.

  • Grand prize: $100 and a 100 GB SpiderOak Account
  • 1st runner up: $50 and a 50 GB SpiderOak Account
  • 2nd runner up: $25 and a 25 GB SpiderOak Account
  • Winners will be informed via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. NOTE: Sorry everyone – due to restrictions, Google+ entries will not be a consideration for this contest.

    Judging Guidelines:

  • 50% – number of ‘likes’
  • 25% – picture quality
  • 25% – Idea Content. Originality.
  • There you have it! Be creative and have fun. Share your passion with the world and remind yourself and others how important freedom is to you and us all.

    How does SpiderOak use SpiderOak? – Part 3

    Jovan Washington, Web Communications Coordinator

    Hi everyone!

    I want to formally introduce myself and let you know how I use SpiderOak. First, let me explain a little about what I do here. My official title is Web Communications Coordinator. I work closely with our small marketing crew. Those of you active on Facebook, Twitter, Forums, etc. have likely been talking to me in the last several months or so. I would LOVE to hear suggestions you may have regarding SpiderOak’s social presence, particularly concerning sites/platforms SpiderOak does not currently participate in. Let’s talk! What can we do differently?

    Working with the marketing crew has been fun and challenging. I’ve been a SpiderOak user since early 2008, and would only use it to back up my documents. Now that I work for the company, I find myself using it in ways I did not imagine. For starters, I now back up all my media. Pictures from SpiderOak gatherings, videos for marketing material, music, documents/passwords, invoices… You name it and it is probably on our servers. I also use several different devices, so keeping all my data in sync with other devices is extremely important. Let’s say Daniel (our other marketing guru) needs marketing material that I created on my desktop at home. I am not at my desktop at home however I am at a coffee shop 5 miles away! No worries, I can access it and send it to him from my laptop. I even use SpiderOak to test new versions of the software we release so we can have a better product for you!

    That is how I use SpiderOak. It stores my life.


    Stay tuned! Tomorrow, you’ll hear from Michael Crane, UI/UX & QA.

    5 Ways To Boost Your Virtual Office Productivity

    For anyone who works from home, you know how a virtual environment presents special challenges – primarily because they are so geographically dispersed like the SpiderOak team. Given that we rarely meet face-to-face, SpiderOak relies on the powers of technology to get our jobs done. This can be quite challenging for anyone who is new to the scene. As such, I’d like to share five ways to help you boost your productivity so you aren’t sitting in front of your computer – naked and stressed.

  • Be culturally savvy. Before I started with the SpiderOak team, I had never worked with such a diverse group. If you work with folks outside the country, take some time to learn about their cultural nuances and practices. Be aware of their holidays and work routines and be careful not to unintentionally insult or offend them. Everyone must have respect for each other in order for the global workforce to succeed.

  • Start in a smart way. You may feel frazzled if you have a lot of deadlines looming. Realize that you have to spend some time before you start to get organized and plan your day. Start small and with simple tasks before you move to your bigger jobs for the day. For many, people procrastinate when they don’t like a task so make sure you ‘get in the mood’ with things you enjoy.

  • Provide support for your team members. Virtual workers will have concerns from time to time that you need to address promptly to keep productivity high. For example, we would like to make sure our Customer Relations team is up to speed on our mobile platform; as such, they are getting smart phones to help provide our mobile customers better support. If your associates need anything to get their work done, go ahead and support them by getting them what they need. I’ve quickly discovered If you’re willing to work to accommodate, they will be more likely to return the favor.

  • Route tasks effectively. When I was first hired, I had no clue what any of our team did! A thorough knowledge of your virtual workers’ skillsets will help you route work properly. After all, everyone has different specialties so make sure that you delegate appropriate work to each person. This will help everyone be more productive and you will get the results you need. You can actually see what we all do here.

  • Communicate! This is probably the most important for a virtual team. So many things have gone wrong because individuals do not communicate. It is essential for the very existence and operation of any business or any organized effort. We are all guilty of failing to communicate from time to time. You need to make sure you discuss your communication methods and how often you must get updates. The SpiderOak team has been practicing this a lot and playing with ideas to increase better communication. We aren’t done yet and are always improving.

  • ‘Getting things done’ more efficiently leads to greater success and fulfillment in our lives! In a virtual office environment, we must purposefully train ourselves to become more productive. It is my hope that the 5 tips above can help you in your quest for what I am calling virtual productiveness. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, we’d love to hear them!

    Creating a Grayscale Icon – We’ll Leave That up to You

    Through the SpiderOak Vine, we keep hearing that our Mac users would really enjoy a SpiderOak grayscale icon for the toolbar – keeping with the consistency of the overall Mac look & feel. After an internal conversation on the topic, we thought the best way to make this happen would be to open it up to our community to see what you all could come up with.

    Here’s what you’ll need to do:

    1. Make a SpiderOak grayscale icon (keeping intellectual property and copyrights in mind)

    2. Send an image file to on/or before June 24

    3. If you are so inclined, share the contest with your friends and family

    Here’s what we’ll do:

    1. Ogle over your icon submission

    2. Pick an icon that we like best

    3. Boost your account 20 additional GBs & feature you in our Release Notes

    We are eager to see all your submissions! There are of course several tools that will help you along the way but we will leave those choices up to you. :-)

    Special ‘Secret’ Note: Along these lines, we have been investigating a move toward a much more native look & feel across all of our supported platforms. Who knows – perhaps this will be available soon…

    And The Winners Are…

    For many months now we have thought about creating new T-shirts for the company. In our ongoing efforts to make SpiderOak a pleasant experience for you, we simply never had the time to come up with a design ourselves; therefore, we called on the community for help.

    Choosing a winner was an extremely difficult task considering the high caliber of creative people that participated. Thank you for all the support and contribution! We hope to start production of the winning design soon.

    The winner of the SpiderOak T-shirt contest will not only get a free T-shirt but also received a FREE 100 GB upgrade and $100. The runner-up receives a T-shirt and 30 additional FREE GBs and $50. The third place runner-up receives 20 additional FREE GBs and $20. And the fourth runner-up receives 10 additional FREE GBs and $10.

    And with no further ado… The 4 winning t-shirt designs are as follows:

    Grand prize winner goes to Michael Menanno!

    Second prize winner goes to Rubén Gómez Pérez!

    Third prize winner goes to Daniel Peterson!

    Fourth prize winner goes to Alexander M!

    Thanks again for all your submissions, and stay tuned for more contests in the future!