[LINK] When the Internet Is My Hard Drive, Should I Trust Third Parties?

Bernard Robertson-Dunn brd at iimetro.com.au
Fri Feb 22 11:54:05 EST 2008

Following Roger's remarks about 'data survival security' and 'data 
content security'.

Go to the article for various links.


When the Internet Is My Hard Drive, Should I Trust Third Parties?
Bruce Schneier

Wine Therapy is a web bulletin board for serious wine geeks. It's been 
active since 2000, and its database of back posts and comments is a 
wealth of information: tasting notes, restaurant recommendations, 
stories and so on. Late last year someone hacked the board software, got 
administrative privileges and deleted the database. There was no backup.

Of course the board's owner should have been making backups all along, 
but he has been very sick for the past year and wasn't able to. And the 
Internet Archive has been only somewhat helpful.

More and more, information we rely on -- either created by us or by 
others -- is out of our control. It's out there on the internet, on 
someone else's website and being cared for by someone else. We use those 
websites, sometimes daily, and don't even think about their reliability.

Bits and pieces of the web disappear all the time. It's called "link 
rot," and we're all used to it. A friend saved 65 links in 1999 when he 
planned a trip to Tuscany; only half of them still work today. In my own 
blog, essays and news articles and websites that I link to regularly 
disappear -- sometimes within a few days of my linking to them.

It may be because of a site's policies -- some newspapers only have a 
couple of weeks on their website -- or it may be more random: Position 
papers disappear off a politician's website after he changes his mind on 
an issue, corporate literature disappears from the company's website 
after an embarrassment, etc. The ultimate link rot is "site death," 
where entire websites disappear: Olympic and World Cup events after the 
games are over, political candidates' websites after the elections are 
over, corporate websites after the funding runs out and so on.

Mostly, we ignore the problem. Sometimes I save a copy of a good recipe 
I find, or an article relevant to my research, but mostly I trust that 
whatever I want will be there next time. Were I planning a trip to 
Tuscany, I would rather search for relevant articles today than rely on 
a nine-year-old list anyway. Most of the time, link rot and site death 
aren't really a problem.

This is changing in a Web 2.0 world, with websites that are less about 
information and more about community. We help build these sites, with 
our posts or our comments. We visit them regularly and get to know 
others who also visit regularly. They become part of our socialization 
on the internet and the loss of them affects us differently, as Greatest 
Journal users discovered in January when their site died.

Few, if any, of the people who made Wine Therapy their home kept backup 
copies of their own posts and comments. I'm sure they didn't even think 
of it. I don't think of it, when I post to the various boards and blogs 
and forums I frequent. Of course I know better, but I think of these 
forums as extensions of my own computer -- until they disappear.

As we rely on others to maintain our writings and our relationships, we 
lose control over their availability. Of course, we also lose control 
over their security, as MySpace users learned last month when a 17-GB 
file of half a million supposedly private photos was uploaded to a 
BitTorrent site.

In the early days of the web, I remember feeling giddy over the wealth 
of information out there and how easy it was to get to. "The internet is 
my hard drive," I told newbies. It's even more true today; I don't think 
I could write without so much information so easily accessible. But it's 
a pretty damned unreliable hard drive.

The internet is my hard drive, but only if my needs are immediate and my 
requirements can be satisfied inexactly. It was easy for me to search 
for information about the MySpace photo hack. And it will be easy to 
look up, and respond to, comments to this essay, both on Wired.com and 
on my own blog. Wired.com is a commercial venture, so there is 
advertising value in keeping everything accessible. My site is not at 
all commercial, but there is personal value in keeping everything 
accessible. By that analysis, all sites should be up on the internet 
forever, although that's certainly not true. What is true is that 
there's no way to predict what will disappear when.

Unfortunately, there's not much we can do about it. The security 
measures largely aren't in our hands. We can save copies of important 
web pages locally, and copies of anything important we post. The 
Internet Archive is remarkably valuable in saving bits and pieces of the 
internet. And recently, we've started seeing tools for archiving 
information and pages from social networking sites. But what's really 
important is the whole community, and we don't know which bits we want 
until they're no longer there.

And about Wine Therapy, I think it started in 2000. It might have been 
2001. I can't check, because someone erased the archives



Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sydney Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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