Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

Features 101: 5 Characteristics That Make SpiderOak Different

Welcome to SpiderOak University. If you’re a student, new user, or a lover of continuous learning, this month we’re talking to you.

We’ll be posting a couple video shorts each week where SpiderOak CEO Ethan Oberman uses a whiteboard to explain some of our basic product functionalities. School yourself and keep an eye out for our next POP QUIZ tomorrow so you can receive extra GBs.


Apologies for the brief blackout in this video

Whether you need to access a document you have stored on a remote server, synchronize data between a Mac, Windows or Linux device, share important business documents with your clients, or just rest easy knowing all of your data is safely, securely, and automatically backed up – SpiderOak is there for you. Ethan Oberman shows off 5 distinct characteristics.

Do you have a .edu email address? Don’t forget – you can enjoy 50% off your private backup/sync/share account:

Sign up today.

Zero-Knowledge 101: What It Is & What It Means to You

Welcome to SpiderOak University. If you’re a student, new user, or a lover of continuous learning, this month we’re talking to you.

We’ll be posting a couple video shorts each week where SpiderOak CEO Ethan Oberman uses a whiteboard to explain some of our basic product functionalities. School yourself and keep an eye out for our next POP QUIZon Friday so you can receive extra GBs.

Who can you trust? This is an important question in today’s race to the cloud. We’ve worked hard over the past six years to build a trustworthy product that upholds user privacy above all else. SpiderOak CEO Ethan Oberman explains how SpiderOak developed its ‘Zero-Knowledge’ privacy policy, what it is, and how it works.

Do you have a .edu email address? Don’t forget – you can enjoy 50% off your private backup/sync/share account:

Sign up today.

Our History – Dedication to True Backup & Privacy

Welcome to SpiderOak University. If you’re a student, new user, or a lover of continuous learning, this month we’re talking to you.

We’ll be posting a couple video shorts each week where SpiderOak CEO Ethan Oberman uses a whiteboard to explain some of our basic product functionalities. School yourself and keep an eye out for our FIRST QUIZ tomorrow so you can receive extra GBs.

What is true backup? How do we ensure privacy and security for all your data? Learn how to store historical versions of your data with SpiderOak.

Do you have a .edu email address? Don’t forget – you can enjoy 50% off your private backup/sync/share account:

Sign up today.

Conversation with a Privacy Professional – Part II

With only a few months at SpiderOak under my belt, and new to the world of careful consideration around privacy and security, I’m learning things I’ve never considered. I’m always the first to adopt social media, I use Gmail without a second thought, and historically haven’t really cared who has my (what I thought was) basic info.

But I sat down with a “privacy professional” who breathes this stuff and has been concerned with personal privacy most of his life. And true to his nature, we kept his identity private. For the sake of this piece, let’s call him Walt. If you missed Part I yesterday, you can read it here.

“As a programmer, I’ve learned a few details of how those industries work, and now I give out the minimal information about myself. When I go to the store, I don’t fill out the membership or credit card forms, never give my social security number or date of birth to anyone, nor do I give my middle initial,” Walt said.

“Google keeps a full history of everything you’ve searched for. Imagine how well they can profile and target ads based on years of search history combined with what you’re interested in right now. I recommend not signing in when searching with Google, disallow or clear browser cookies, set Flash to for “click to play”, clear flash cookies, and use a commercial VPN service.” A VPN arranges for all Internet traffic to first pass through a secure remote location before traveling on the un-encrypted Internet. “This means that all my internet traffic when I am browsing doesn’t come straight from my location, and therefore can’t be traced back to my home or city. It also keeps my ISP from having a database of every website I’ve visited. It costs a small fee, but it’s worth it to me.”

“Companies have enough resources to profile me without my help. My friends can know where I live, or what I like, but I’m not going to tell world’s corporations.” Walt said. “I’m not as paranoid about the government as I am about what companies do with my personal data, or private individuals.”

If you’re familiar with SpiderOak, you’ve seen our “Zero-Knowledge” privacy policy. We don’t share your data with anyone, and unlike Google, not even our employees can see it. As we touched on in our most recent newsletter, when a law enforcement agency asks us for your data, we let them know your data is encrypted, and we can’t decrypt it, and they can’t either without your encryption keys. Thus far, that has always put a halt on the inquiry.

Companies like Facebook intentionally seek and use your personal information; spammers use phishing tactics to trick you into giving important personal information (like your bank account); and then some companies use or share your information it accidentally. Walt told me about a man Virginia whose laptop was stolen, and unfortunately had everyone in the state’s medical records on it. We’re seeing right now that as people have quickly adopted technology, companies or individuals with sensitive client information are having to do some back pedaling. Lawyers, accountants, big companies, and health care professionals are looking to safe alternatives (like SpiderOak) to store their information.

Thanks to Walt for sitting down with me, and showing me why I might want to be more thoughtful with my personal information. It has definitely given me a lot to think about.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, here are some interesting articles:

Conversation with a Privacy Professional – Part I

With only a few months at SpiderOak under my belt, and new to the world of careful consideration around privacy and security, I’m learning things I’ve never considered. I’m always the first to adopt social media, I use Gmail without a second thought, and historically haven’t really cared who has my (what I thought was) basic info.

But I sat down with a “privacy professional” who breathes this stuff and has been concerned with personal privacy most of his life. And true to his nature, we kept his identity private. For the sake of this piece, let’s call him Walt.

“Privacy starts with where you receive your dead-tree postal mail. If someone really cares about privacy, perhaps because they’re a celebrity, they have enemies, a stalker, or just because they want to be prepared, they move and then never again connect their name to their physical address,” he told me. He said that most privacy techniques started with celebrities and wealthy people who had strong reasons to protect their privacy, for example, so that their kids wouldn’t be kidnapped for ransom. Walt continued about the benefits of using a mailbox at UPS or the post office: “You don’t have to change your address when you move, and companies can’t profile you based on where you live. No one will examine your trash.”

He referenced this New York Times article from earlier this year, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets”, particularly the story about how Target knew a teen was pregnant before her father, due to her buying habits they were tracking. The enraged father called Target, how dare they send coupons for strollers and maternity clothes to his daughter, only to find out…whoops. Tricky Target, or foolish us? (Now Target has learned to send that page of ads for cribs and maternity clothes, but also include an ad for a lawnmower and a grill, just so it seems like a regular un-targeted mass mailing.)

And this is Walt’s point. Most people’s consumer shopping habits are fairly set, so Target, and companies like it, have invented algorithms to predict age, family size, if you are likely to be pregnant, etc, and use this information to target people in periods of transition long before its public. Every time you use a loyalty card or use a credit card to pay at a store, your purchases are linked to your identity, and added to the company’s big database interactions with you. They track and profile which days and times you prefer to shop along with your purchase history.

“This has been going on for decades,” Walt said. “Companies do crazy thing with your personal identifying information. But most people have no idea how their information is being used. They are also under no obligation to keep this data to themselves. They sell it to other big database marketing companies, who buy from many sources and then merge to create very detailed profiles. The DMV in Florida is getting in on this action, selling drive and auto licensing info to advertisers. If you file a police report for a burglary at your home, expect to start getting calls from companies trying to sell you alarm systems.”

Stay tuned for Part II, which we will publish tomorrow.

If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, here are some interesting articles:

Announcement: Get 4 Additional Gigs All Week

This promotion is now closed. Thanks for the overwhelming response!

Last week, we shared why freedom online is important and how we blaze our own trail. As we approach the Fourth of July in the U.S., we at SpiderOak can’t help but reflect on the importance of freedom online. To us, this freedom is accomplished through ensuring 100% privacy for you and your business.

We provide a FREE 2 GB account to all our users who sign up. Starting TODAY until the end of the week, we would like to offer all our users 4 GBs of storage! Here is how you can claim them:

New users with 2 GB accounts

First, we’d like to thank you for becoming a SpiderOak user. Here is how you can claim your storage:

  • Go to www.spideroak.com/signup if you are not a currently signed up.
  • You must first activate your account on your computer by opening the SpiderOak downloaded application and selecting “Activate First Device.” If you have not yet downloaded SpiderOak, you may do so here: Download SpiderOak.
  • Once activated, go to our homepage.
  • At the bottom left side, you will see “My Login.” Click here and enter your credentials.
  • When you are logged in, you will click “Account” in the top right corner.
  • You will then select the orange “Buy More Space” button.
  • Once on the Account Details page, you will select “Change” under Account Type.
  • On this page, you will see a “Promotional Code” box.
  • Type “Freedom4” in this box and select “Update”
  • You should see “6 Gigs: Free” beside Monthly Billing. If so, click “Next.”
  • Your account is now updated! Enjoy!

Non-paying existing users

Note: You must be a non-paying user with 5 GBs of storage or less. Also, your plan will be replaced with 6 GBs.

First, we’d like to thank you for being a loyal SpiderOak user! Here is how you can claim your additional storage:

  • At the bottom left side of our homepage, you will see “My Login.” Click here and enter your credentials.
  • When you are logged in, you will click “Account” in the top right corner.
  • You will then select the orange “Buy More Space” button.
  • Once on the Account Details page, you will select “Change” under Account Type.
  • On this page, you will see a “Promotional Code” box.
  • Type “Freedom4” in this box and select “Update.”
  • You should see “6 Gigs: Free” beside Monthly Billing. If so, click “Next.”
  • Your account is now updated! Enjoy!

Paid users and users with 7 GBs of storage and more

  • Email Freedom4@spideroak.com and include your username and I will personally increase your account 4 additional gigs.

Remember, this promotion ends at the end of the week so please be sure to share with your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors! Of course, don’t forget about our Refer-A-Friend program which means you can get even more storage!

We would like to thank you for being a part of SpiderOak! It’s because of you that we are so passionate and vocal about privacy. We’d love to hear from you what freedom online means to you. Please share in the comments below and maybe you can include what you will do with your additional storage.

Thanks all!

To SpiderOak, Freedom = Blazing Our Own Trail

In yesterday’s blog post, Erin and Alan spoke a bit about how freedom means your peace of mind. We achieve that through our dedication to privacy online.

Another way we embrace freedom online is through blazing our own trail. We’re proud to say we’ve done this intentionally in several ways:

It’s smart to have ‘Zero-Knowledge’

Though it makes work for our developers and engineers a little challenging, the idea was to create an environment where Fairless and Oberman didn’t have to trust the people hired on to work at SpiderOak. So they methodically developed a system which is called “’Zero-Knowledge’ privacy.” This means, there is no point where a SpiderOak employee, even with direct access to the servers that are storing the data, can access your information. It is a very important distinction and gives you (as an individual or a business) the freedom to upload your embarrassing videos (like waving around golf ball retrievers) or backing up your grandma’s super-secret recipes. Should the government or anyone else come busting through our digital offices, asking for grandma’s recipes, we would have to give them the data by law. BUT it is encrypted and there is nothing we can do to decrypt it. Read more about this in our recent newsletter.

YOU

It’s because of you that we are so passionate and vocal about privacy. Providing a private and flexible product, with real feedback and support is something we’re proud to offer. Our customers often say, “I love working with real people!” We have a virtual team scattered around the world, and when our users can identify us as being real people who really help them, it brings smiles to our faces. Our loyal following of people like you who care about privacy is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the cloud storage / sync / share companies in our space.

Complete cross-platform support

In yesterday’s interview with our CTO, Alan Fairless, you probably read where he recalled there being very few online backup options during SpiderOak’s inception in 2007 that were compatible with all platforms. The need for heterogeneity has always existed, but it’s becoming more pronounced as devices proliferate, devices that run diverse operating systems, especially Linux. In fact, a large chunk of our customers run Linux OS. Being a heavy Linux user himself, Fairless saw the need. So that is where we started, and worked our way across platforms, giving our users the freedom to backup, sync, and share their important data from any device. We continue to provide flexible multi-platform support.

What’s in a name

I often get the question, “What exactly is a SpiderOak?” “Does someone in the company have a fascination with spiders and oak trees?” Believe it or not, there was actually a method in creating our name. Alan Fairless and Ethan Oberman did not want to come up with a name everyone had in the industry, but wanted something unique. At the time (and to this day) it was pretty hard to find a good domain, so they started taking concepts that they liked and started placing them together to see if they were available. They slowly started plugging in different concepts and they liked the concept of spiders and webs of data. The word “Oak” was brought to the table to mean very strong and stable. And that is how the SpiderOak name was formed. Since it is so different and not specific, this gives us the freedom to be flexible. There is also an interesting ancient story that uniquely describes the name we chose.

Let’s celebrate!

As a special thank you and to celebrate, all of next week SpiderOak is going to offer you 4 additional FREE GB for the 4th.

Whether you are already using SpiderOak, just signed up, or are ready to give it a try, celebrate with us by grabbing your 4 FREE GB. Stay tuned for details via our blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

To SpiderOak, Freedom = Your Peace of Mind, Privacy Online

As we approach the Fourth of July in the U.S., we at SpiderOak can’t help but reflect on the importance of freedom online. After all, it is where many of us spend much of our time. To us, this freedom is accomplished through ensuring 100% privacy, and therefore your peace of mind (and ours too!). Since our founding in 2007, this is something we’ve really hard on and made a priority.

In an attempt to capture the continuously unfolding tale of how our love affair with privacy began, I sat down with one of our Founders and Chief Technology Officer, Alan Fairless, and asked, “How did SpiderOak come to be?”

A solution born out of frustration

Founders Ethan Oberman and Alan Fairless met previously while building a different company. Oberman had files everywhere on different computers and wanted to connect his computers and their contents to one central location. Fairless was frustrated that he didn’t have a reliable place to safely store all his files and data.

“Anyone who uses computers for long enough learns the necessity of keeping copies of whatever is important to them,” Fairless said. “They typically start by copying to other drives and emailing stuff to themselves. This combination of inconsistencies – files and data saved stored haphazardly over time – combined with the likelihood of your computer crashing or files suffering from human errors, gives limited protection.”

“All of these are deeply flawed strategies,” Fairless said, “because they are rarely current and require time and attention – you will lose data in that process. I remember before SpiderOak, I would buy a new hard drive, encrypt my data onto it, and give it to a friend to throw in a closet and forget about. I had a huge amount of data from two to three years of all kinds of projects.”

No other options

“At this time in 2006, there wasn’t an option for where you could store your data reliably and privately,” Fairless said. “The existing options didn’t do encryption, no support for Linux, and rarely support for Mac, which was important to us. We wanted to create a product that supported all the major platforms, especially Linux, and since privacy was a part of our personal philosophy, that would be included. The crypto required for meaningful privacy is hard, but also it is a problem that engineers are drawn to, which is why we’ve been able to attract the quality of engineers we have that also believe in our approach and focus on privacy.”

“I store my daily journals, financial records, and the embarrassing family photos on SpiderOak, and I prefer they are available only to me,” Fairless said. “I am not alone in this feeling. Others want to have a central place for their data that is only accessible to them.”

“With the way SpiderOak is oriented, your encryption pass phrase is something that only exists in your mind. This means your SpiderOak data is only useful in combination with the contents of your brain. What you store with SpiderOak becomes a giant extension of your own mind, that effectively you are simply remembering your own data, as if it were all stored in your brain in a giant USB drive surgically implanted behind your ear. You may share those things exactly as you chose. This puts you entirely in control, it’s your decision and no one else’s.”

“Freedom is being able to choose,” Fairless said. “Everybody loves choice.”

On the horizon: convenient, private collaboration

Over the years, SpiderOak has extended incrementally. At first we were just online backup, then we added sync, mobile components (which we’re still expanding), and now, we’re moving into the enterprise and collaboration space for groups that care about privacy.

“This could mean you collaborate and work privately with your coworkers on a project, or your own individual projects, or with your family, or maybe your wedding website,” Fairless said. “We’re keeping with our theme [of privacy], but finding more and more ways to make it convenient for people to access, move and manipulate their data.”

Celebrate your freedom online

Your peace of mind is our priority. And as Fairless said, freedom is being able to choose. It is with that spirit that all next week, SpiderOak is proud to offer you 4 (more) FREE GB for the 4th.

Whether you are already using SpiderOak, just signed up, or are ready to give it a try, celebrate with us by grabbing your 4 FREE GB. Stay tuned for details via our blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thanks from all of us!

Erin

SpiderOak June 2012 Newsletter

SAFE & SECURE

YOUR RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Judging by the popularity of criminal investigation and justice TV shows, it’s safe to say our society loves courtroom drama. In real life, although rare, we do receive a request from a law enforcement agency asking us to supply them details about a users. We publish the number of times this happens along with more information in our transparency report. Most of the time, the request isn’t even accompanied by a subpoena. The truth is, some companies immediately give the agents whatever they are requesting without making them go through due process. At SpiderOak however, when we get a request like this, we always tell them we only give user data in response to a subpoena from a court with proper jurisdiction. We also inform them of our Zero-Knowledge Privacy Policy which means our users’ data is encrypted such that we can’t decrypt it. Furthermore, unless they have the user’s encryption keys, they won’t be able to either. To date, this has always concluded the inquiry. In the event we need to comply with a subpoena we would notify the user prior to disclosure unless prohibited from doing so by statute or court order. To make this step more official we recently added this clause to our privacy policy. While the inside of a courtroom looks exciting on a late-night episode of Law & Order, we have yet to make any appearances.


IN SYNC

INDUSTRY NEWS

The digital rights defender, Electronic Frontier Foundation, recently conducted a survey on what happens when the government demands companies hand over users’ private information. Evaluating 18 major Internet companies – including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Yahoo – we were thrilled to be included in the examination. SpiderOak ranked higher than most of the giants we shared the chart with. Interestingly, we were unable to receive a star for ‘Fight for user privacy in courts’ as we’ve never been in this particular situation. 2.5 out of 4 ain’t bad! Click here to see the results of When the Government Comes Knocking, Who Has Your Back?


EMPLOYEE ACCESS

JOHN LANE: BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT & SALES

Trading his desk on Wall Street for a seat at the table in Silicon Valley, John hasn’t looked back since. SpiderOak welcomed John to the team just a few months ago and tasked him with delivering solutions to our large Enterprise clients and generally promoting the Zero-Knowledge mantra. "I enjoy the excitement and challenge of being part of a team that has designed and championed industry-leading technology; and the satisfaction that comes from helping our clients deploy that technology to protect their critical business data," John said. He is no doubt a great addition to the SpiderOak family.


Click here to read more of the June 2012 Newsletter


The Product is YOU –> YOU are the Product


The other day I heard a question that so wonderfully placed into perspective an ongoing debate I have been having with friends and colleagues:

Are you creating a profile on Facebook? Or is Facebook creating a profile on you?

Or put a different way:

If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.

Inherent in these questions is an understanding of how Facebook derives revenue from its hundreds of millions of non-paying users. It is a question that must not be ignored. Why? This is much deeper than being solely about Facebook; this issue touches on how we – as a society – think about our privacy and the social contract we make with social media companies who are constantly collecting data on who we are, what we do, and with whom we interact. Yes – that is a lot of information to know about someone and if a company collects, repackages, and sells this information in the open market then I think the user should at least be made aware of the process in a simple and straightforward manner.

Now – do companies like Facebook have to give users a choice? Do they have to offer two options on how revenue is generated? By way of example – offer ‘A’ states the user has to pay to keep data private while offer ‘B’ provides a free service but allows the company to repackage and sell user data. It is of course not appropriate to force any company to act in this regard; however, if a social media company dared to adopt this approach they could draw greater attention to how data is being used and provide a more meaningful way for people to understand what they are getting into while enjoying the online, trackable, measurable social world in which we live.

On a related note, we at SpiderOak engage in the ‘freemium’ model. We provide a set amount of space for free so that users can enjoy and become comfortable with the product. Once additional space requirements are necessary, the user can purchase additional space. Inherent in this model – from the SpiderOak perspective – is that we never ever monetize free user accounts by way of advertising or any other means. We see this as having a tremendously negative impact on the freemium model – especially when in the business of ensuring privacy.

As always, we are eager to hear from you so please don’t hesitate to send thoughts and comments.