As we all put more of our photos, documents and videos online, how much of this data really still belongs to us?
That’s the question that a lot is worrying about now that iPhones are about to change. The debate has implications for online privacy and government oversight, and highlights how the storage of our digital data has changed over time, raising concerns about the way we should behave technologically.
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The hubbub started last week when Apple unveiled a software tool for iPhones to report child sexual abuse cases. Seems good, doesn’t it? The tool will be included in Apple’s next mobile software update this fall. It works by scanning an iPhone for code linked to a database of known child pornography when photos are uploaded from the device to iCloud, Apple’s online storage service. Once there is a certain number of matches, an Apple representative will review the photos before notifying the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
However, some cybersecurity experts countered that the content labeling system was invasive and violated people’s privacy. They warned that Apple is setting a precedent that will make it easy for surveillance-intensive countries like China to pass laws that could oblige the company to use the technology for other purposes, such as scanning political images for an authoritarian one Government are unfavorable.
“They said they had no plans to do worse with this technology, but that just feels naively optimistic at this point,” said Erica Portnoy, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the digital rights nonprofit.
In response to the backlash, Apple released a document this week stating that the new system will not scan people’s private iPhone photo libraries. Also, if users prevent their iPhone’s photo library from backing up pictures to iCloud, the matching technology will stop working, a company spokesman said.
But no matter how this Apple episode ends, it’s a reminder of how much our digital data storage has changed. In the past, most of us stored our digital photos on our PC drives and on miniature USB sticks. They were ours alone.
Now we are increasingly storing our documents and other information in the “cloud”, where large companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft host the data on their server computers. In doing so, these companies gained much more power over our information.
That leads me to something I said earlier: it is wise to have an exit strategy in place to pull your data out of the cloud in case you want to leave the cloud. All it takes is a little foresight.
Over the past few years I’ve taken a hybrid approach of storing copies of my data online and offline so that I can take advantage of the cloud but also maintain independent ownership of my data. My efforts culminated in creating an online server at home that is essentially a private cloud.
That’s how I did it, along with other approaches for a hybrid approach to storing your data.
The hybrid backup
Many of us have got used to automatically backing up our data on the online servers of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. These cloud services are practical and ensure that your data is regularly backed up over the Internet.
But the best practice is a hybrid: Store local copies on physical drives as well, according to data protection company Acronis. It’s nice to have a local backup when you don’t have an internet connection and need instant access to a file.
“It’s shocking how few people follow a hybrid backup plan,” said Topher Tebow, senior cybersecurity researcher at Acronis. “The whole point of backups is to ensure the continuity of data, and that simply cannot be guaranteed with a single solution.”
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For me, local copies are important for independence. What if I’m tired of paying a company’s cloud subscription fees? What if the company’s servers are hacked? Or what if the company changes the product in an unattractive way?
Without a local backup, you could feel trapped in a company’s ecosystem. The longer you put one off, the harder it will be to pull out your data if you decide to leave. However, according to an Acronis survey last year, only 17 percent of consumers choose the hybrid approach.
Fortunately, making a local backup is not difficult. The first step is to securely backup all of your digital information to another device.
For iPhone photos, the easiest way is to back up your pictures to a computer. On a Mac, you’d plug in your iPhone, open Apple’s Photos app, and import all of your photos. On Windows, use the Windows Photos app to do the same thing. And if you want to be extra thorough, you can use the Finder tool on Mac or the iTunes app on Windows to back up all of your iPhone data.
From there, you can back up your computer data to an external drive that plugs into your computer. Apps like Apple’s Time Machine for Macs or File History for Windows do this for you.
After you get your photos from your phone, from there you can decide what to do, such as: B. delete them from the cloud and port them to another cloud service such as Google Photos. Just remember not to become totally dependent on the next cloud.
The extreme setup: a personal cloud
There is also an extreme version of hybrid backup that I do but don’t recommend for everyone. It is used to set up what is known as a Network Attached Storage Device, which is a miniature server that is connected to your Internet router and enables you to access your data remotely. It’s like having a private cloud at home.
Building a server is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, the software is not easy to use. Second, it’s not cheap. An internet-connected storage device like the Synology DS220 + costs approximately $ 300 and hard drives must be purchased separately.
But I’ve found the investment and time to be worth it. I plug my phone into my Mac every week, which backs up data on my computer, and when I sleep, the Mac backs up its data on my miniserver.
It’s not as seamless as a company’s cloud storage, but it’s convenient enough – and I was tired of paying for multiple subscriptions to cloud services.
A way out
Even if you take a hybrid approach to storage, does that take you away from Apple’s new content flagging tool?
No, said Matthew D. Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, who loudly criticized Apple’s move. There is no real escape, he said, because some of the technology will be on the phone hardware – and there is nothing we can do to remove it.
The cryptographer said that was the first time he thought about switching to a phone that would use Google’s Android software instead. That would mean pulling out all of the photos he had stored in Apple’s cloud.
“It’s going to be so painful,” said Mr. Green. “I have 20,000 photos dating back to 2010. These are things I can’t stand to lose. “