Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

Your reaction? The mining of your personal data

Last Monday, CEO Ethan Oberman spoke with Bloomberg West’s Jon Erlichman about companies like Facebook and Google “Mining Our Personal Data For Profit.” (If you missed it, check it out here.)

We want to hear from you.

  • Have you ever seen ads targeted at you based on a search you’ve performed on Google? Helpful or harmful?
  • Based on personal information you’ve given a company, have you been Targeted? Remember this story in the New York Times earlier this year? “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”.

Leave us a comment below and tell us your story.

And if you missed any of our media sweeps this month, check them out here:


SpiderOak in Media

Explaining The Cloud to my Grandparents

Granny and Papa

Pleasure to meet you! I’m new to the SpiderOak team. And I’m new to the cloud technologies space – I come from four years of work with an international nonprofit, Water.org.

I’m completely fascinated. Intrigued. Excited, even. I find myself not only spending time each day learning more about the world of backup, sync, share, and access (mobile), and all things related, but trying to adequately explain to someone else in my life what it all is. It’s good practice.

I recently visited my beloved, hospitable and humorous grandparents – Granny and Papa – in Memphis, Tennessee. As I told them about SpiderOak, they asked the question I have come to expect on a regular basis: “What is the cloud?”

A few weeks ago, SpiderOak’s Jovan Washington wrote a blog post called “Living the CloudLife: Cloud Computing 101,” in which he rightfully called cloud computing a critical trend, and asked “How would you explain the cloud to your mother?”

I took on that challenge. But let me give you a little background: Papa gets on AOL every morning to check his email, the news, his stocks, and forwards the latest funny email, such as “Wal-Martians”. He also keeps tabs on some of the family via Facebook ( i.e. “lurking”). I helped my Granny get on Pinterest (although she loved it, I don’t think she’s active), and she has an e-reader. As far as grandparents go, I think they are doing pretty good with progressive technology.

So I told Granny and Papa:

“The past few years, I haven’t had my own personal laptop, just my work computer. And I obviously had to turn that back in when I left. Since I’d had it for years, it had all my personal music, photos, and documents on it too, besides work stuff.

So, I opened a SpiderOak account, and had it backup, or save, everything off my computer. Then, I completely erased everything on my computer, and turned it back into work, empty. Now, whenever I buy a new computer, I can login my SpiderOak account, and grab anything I want that I had saved off of my old computer. I can just access it, or save it to my new computer. But it’s all there – on the cloud. And no one can get to it but me. And if my computer burns in a fire, everything will still be there for me in the future.”

Even within these past few weeks, I’ve learned to tell most people – “Actually, you know what the cloud is, you just don’t know you do – all of our photos on Facebook, our email in gmail, anything in Google Docs, or if you have photos on Flickr – that is cloud storage, or cloud-based sharing.”

What do you think? How did I do? What did I miss? How do you explain the cloud to someone who doesn’t know?

I’m excited and honored to be a part of the SpiderOak team, getting to know you – the loyal SpiderOak user, and the ever-growing space. In fact, you probably recently heard that Google announced its contribution: Google Drive.

If you missed it, last week, our CEO Ethan Oberman was interviewed on InvestorPlace about the Facebook IPO. I also enjoyed the 6 Myths About Cloud Backup You Probably Thought Were True (as well as the Zero-Knowledge shout out that linked to our mention).

Cheers! Thank you for the warm welcome, and see you here again very soon…
Erin Swanson

P.S. Stay tuned for a SpiderOak announcement this week, particularly of interest to universities.

Do Not Track

I remember the chills that ran up my spine and the quickening of my heartbeat when I realized someone was following me in the grocery store. It was an initial exchange of smiles in the produce section that turned into multiple disturbing encounters throughout the store. I was deciding between various flavors of rice when I noticed he was standing by the pastas. I was reading the nutritional content on a container of yogurt and noticed he was peering over at me from the jugs of milk. This continued on.

It was broad daylight and there were plenty of people milling around so I didn’t feel terribly threatened, just totally creeped out. Did this person think he knew me? Was he working up the courage to ask me out? Or was he evaluating how a fit 34-year old mom kept her kitchen stocked? Whatever the motivation – innocent, vicious, or somewhere in between – this person was invading my space. I didn’t give him permission to accompany me. I wasn’t followed out of the store but I did leave feeling violated.

When I became aware of the online companies that have been tracking what I read, watch, and listen to – I was overcome with a similar feeling as I described above. One Sunday morning, I overheard a debate on a news show on this very subject. One gentleman was pointing to Facebook and how their users are volunteering their information; therefore, the personal data is fair game and the company has a right to it. But the last time I checked my account settings, the update I chose to share with my select circle of friends was intended for them, not for everyone who has a Facebook account, and not for the people who work at Facebook, and certainly not for the creepy guy in the grocery store.

A month or so ago, I received the announcement from Groupon, the deal-of-the-day discount site, regarding its new partnership with Expedia and its updated privacy policy which includes sharing my information between the companies such as my birth date, where I reside, where I’ve traveled – even my current location should I use it’s mobile application. Hmmm, all this in the spirit of more customized deals? I’m getting those chills again…

Had I found the manager of the grocery store that day and reported what I was experiencing, I’m 100% confident he would have personally escorted my stalker out the door. Perhaps a security guard or police officer would have gotten involved. I find it unsettling that companies are now helping themselves to this data without so much as asking – not dissimilar to those spying eyes. Is it necessary to better understand me as a customer? Would they send better deals my way?

Herein lies the real dilemma. It is easy enough to shop at a different market as there are plenty around the city. And if I can’t find the exact item I like then so be it. However, am I supposed to completely disengage from sites like Facebook and/or Groupon? Is that possible? Realistic? The larger companies like these get, the more complicated these privacy issues become. What do you think?