December 22, 2016

Who owns your digital memories?

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Last week, I was chatting with a colleague when our conversation shifted to how much she loves the “On this Day” update from Facebook, which lets her revisit memories from years ago. The digital scrapbooks made her day, she said, and she’s super-happy that Facebook rolled out the feature.

In the days that followed, I could not help but think back on that conversation as I looked at my own daily updates from the fine folks at Facebook. I sync my photos and videos to two separate cloud services and an external drive, but these updates on Facebook are more engaging.

Who owns your digital memories?

Sure, you can look at a photo or video and get good feelings all over again. But Facebook shows you how others engaged with what you shared. It also shows articles and shared posts that had seen a lot of engagement along with snapshots of friendship on the platform. (There may be a lot of people who regret the former, following the latest US elections.)

When I first saw this functionality with TimeHop years ago, I was hooked. I could see what I said or shared across all of my social networks in an e-mail every day. Unfortunately, the company pivoted — but then, so did Facebook in making the flashbacks part of their native setting.

As a parent of two young kids, I geek out when I see cute things that the kids did, but I also enjoy seeing how they have grown, and knowing that important people in our lives who live far away can keep up with how the kids are developing.

I guess in some ways, you can say that this feature is a social lifeline, extending relationships as well as offering ways to reconnect with family and friends.

Over the past few weeks, I have also noticed a lot of friends using these digital tools to share fond memories of departed relatives. While this issue hasn’t yet hit me, I can see how it helps people cope on difficult days, anniversaries of a loss, that sort of thing.

With all of that said, I can’t help but think about the ownership of these digital memories. For many people, Facebook is the one-stop destination for their digital life. It is often their first and last stop of the day. It’s where they get news, interact with friends and family, and even ask for advice or product reviews. Consumers build up the juggernaut that is Facebook’s content mill, clicking and sharing, feeling as though the content is our own. We also neglect to adequately preserve the Book of Face that we build for ourselves.

Now, we can download our Facebook profiles, but who actually does that regularly? I work on social networks, and I download my content only once or twice a year — it is a tedious exercise. What would happen if I was to lose access to my Facebook account or if Facebook suddenly went the way of the dinosaur? I would lose all of the data that I did not back up or save. What would happen if, say, ransomware started to target Facebook accounts?

Some of those scenarios are likely a ways into the future, but I have seen friends banned by Facebook for various reasons, locked out of their accounts for three to six months at a time. They lost access to the items that they had uploaded and couldn’t look back on their digital memories.

Talk about a buzzkill.

Like many parents, I know I need to do a better job of preserving digital memories and not let them fall victim to laziness or neglect. I just wish that there was an easy solution. Who’s with me?

Good news: Kaspersky Lab, through research and product iteration, has also seen this as a problem. Currently, the team is looking into a solution, dubbed Ffforget, that will enable users to download and own the destiny of their digital lives. The product is slated to go live in 2017, but you can sign up early by visiting ffforget.kaspersky.com.