The One Lab

The Data Safe (or how to prevent my data from being held hostage)

The idea is simple: keep my data in a future-proof format, and in my direct control instead of someone else's. Simple idea, yes? Yet time and time again, we are pushed towards the idea of storing our data on other's servers and machines — some services even lock our data into their own proprietary formats and force users to continue to use their service to access their data, or hold it hostage until the customer coughs up some rediculous dollar amount to release it to yet another proprietary format.

This thesis attempts to outline a possible solution to this problem, and points out various ways to achieve its goals. Please note that this is a work in progress, and will likely change as I work things out in time.

The Problem of Data

Let's take a step back for a moment: what is data? According to the Oxford Dictionary, data is

: facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

Personal data, therefore would be data that relates to how you live your life, who interacts with you, and so on. This is seriously not a good chunk of information to leave in the hands of others -- especially when they're forcing users into proprietary formats that prevent ease of manipulation or transfer of said data.

What's worse is that often these proprietary formats are not future safe. As proven by the RIAA and MPAA time and time again through the forced "upgrades" from analog tape to compact disk, and from VHS to DVD, consumers and users are consistently forced to re-buy their data in ever controlled formats; but this is just one example.

The cellular phone industry is also blatantly guilty of this practice. We constantly store our phone books and agendas in our phones — in fact, they have become integral parts of our lives. Yet, when we are forced off of our current phone by an expired carrier contract, we are usually given a single option: pay for your data to be moved off of your old phone and onto a newer one, or lose it forever.

And what of our precious data stored even on our PDAs or computers? Apple's iCal and Address Book, for instance, are nearly completely proprietary creations. Based upon how rapidly Apple has massively changed their computing platforms (MacOS 7 to MacOS 9, to MacOS X, from 680xx to PowerPC to Intel), how long can we expect our data to survive intact in these closed formats?

Ultimately, the only format that is completely viable to keep our data in our control and safe from vendor lock-in or bitrot is plain text. Be it some kind of marked up plain text such as XML or even Lisp s-exprs, plain text is the only format available that prevents such problems.

A Possible Solution