Data privacy, social and cloud networks

We live in an age where big organisations are trying to hoover up our personal information to be consumed and broadcast on the social networks. It is said that knowledge is power, but knowledge comes from information or data that has been collated, managed and analysed (interpreted). For example, this information is being used to predict and influence our purchasing decisions through targeted advertising. Knowledge in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. Equally, knowledge shared on social networks can be used in constructive ways to do good. As with most things, it is necessary to get the right balance and be on the guard against the harmful side-effects.

One has to ask if having your personal information all over the Internet is a good thing? I believe that it is a matter of degree. Some information is okay, but not too much! Personally, I do not like having personal information such as my calendar on a third-party network, e.g. Google Calendar and other similar offerings. Your calendar or diary gives information on your movements, meetings, informs when you are in or out and gives information on your personal interests and activities. This is sensitive and private information that could be used against you if it gets into the wrong hands. For example, knowledge that you are not at home could be useful to someone with bad intentions.

Similarly, we have seen the growth of cloud storage networks that allow you to store your data at a remote server location, e.g. Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive, SugarSync, DropBox, etc. Whilst these can be very useful, it does mean that you have your personal files stored on a third party network, where you have no control over the policies used and who has access to your data.

Two open source projects attempt to overcome these issues. One is Kolab. “The Kolab Groupware Solution offers flexible Personal Information Management (PIM) for professional deployments in companies of almost any size. But since it is Free Software, it can also be used by individual users who care about being in control of their personal information.” This project has a long lineage – the first phase of Kolab development was in 2003 and commissioned by the German Federal Agency for IT Security (BSI).

I have installed Kolab on a Linux CentOS 6 server and use it for my own personal calendar and also a place to store all of my contacts.  As it is on my own server, I have complete control of my own data and feel much more secure that nobody else is prying on my private information. I only share this data with those I trust.

The second open source project I will mention here is ownCloud. This is an open source cloud storage implementation that you can run on your own server infrastructure, thus reducing or eliminating the need to use third-party cloud storage. As they say, “Do you know where your data is? ownCloud helps enterprises concerned about sensitive data leakage via Dropbox deliver a secure file sync and share solution on site, on their storage, integrated with their infrastructure and security systems, managed to their policies. The result is an easy-to-use solution that provides complete control over sensitive corporate data.”

The average cost of a data breach equaled $5.5 Million in 2011 (

I now run my own cloud storage solution using ownCloud on the JC-J.COM network of servers.