Emotional value of the bytes you don't own

For a long while now I’ve been using Google Photos service to store my photos. Few years ago I’ve switched to using iOS devices and Apple’s ecosystem. That made me start using Apple Cloud service. I guess my life would be simple if not for the fact that these two places don’t store my entire photos collection. Some photos and videos are stored on my local drive, backed up on yet another cloud service.

All these places store data that’s important to me. Several (or more) companies store data that holds a high emotional value for me. That’s an issue, here’s why:

  • no one can guarantee you that the company will exist 2 years from now and that they’ll have an exit strategy, which will allow you to retrieve your data
  • your personal data might be used for profit or spying (while they lie that they’re not doing it)
  • the entire effort of these companies goes into retaining you as a customer, not into developing ways for users to exit their platform (expect it to be a horrible experience)
  • companies can (and often do) leverage your emotional investment

Hard to say how many photos a person takes during their lifetime, but for the sake of the argument let’s say 1.000.000 photos. 90% won’t ever be looked at or used for any purpose. The remaining 10% will give you some joy. Throughout your life you’ll comfortably switch your phones knowing that your photo collection will sync with your new device. I think it’s safe to say that at some point you’ll stop taking photos. You won’t even log onto any of your accounts… since, you know… you’ll be dead. The company that stores your data will use it for whatever they feel like and at some point they’ll delete it. This will be the scenario for most off us. Maybe that’s ok.

While you’re still here, consider the fact that each and every photo you put on Instagram increases that account’s value, both for you and the company that owns the platform. That value might be wiped out in a matter of minutes. Your account might get hacked or you might be banned from the platform for no reason, with no recourse.

My goal isn’t to tell anyone to not use these services. These are incredibly convenient and provide a lot of value, especially for people who aren’t technically educated. Two things I’d like to achieve is to make people understand the consequences of the asymmetrical contracts we sign with these companies and more effort put into allowing users to export their data and leave the platform. I don’t have much faith in the latter.

Nowadays, after I take a photo, I take a moment to think if it’s good enough to justify its existence or is it just making my emotional attachment, to something I barely own, bigger.