The Facebook Conditioning Effect

The art of backing up your data

Here are a few astounding social photo statistics: There have been more than 250 billion photos uploaded to Facebook, with an average 350 million photo uploads every day. The average user has 217 photos uploaded to the site. And that's just Facebook; Zuckerberg's $1 billion acquisition, Instagram, has a ridiculous 55 million snapshots posted to its app per day (for those doing the math, that's more than 600 shots per second).

So what do all these uploads say about us, besides the fact that we all love a good selfie? Recent survey results reveal that when given the choice, 74 percent of respondents would save their personal photos before the device (phone, laptop, or tablet) on which they're stored. In fact, of all the files kept on their devices, consumers overwhelmingly said that their personal photos are the most important.

Photo albums are things of the past; new pictures head straight to the dust-free pages of social networks. But something much more profound and far-reaching is taking place: when we share photos on cloud-based social media, we're actually creating a second copy of that information – a shared copy often now owned by someone else – even if that's not the main intent.

We're calling this the "Facebook Conditioning Effect" – the idea that social media is making the act of backing up more a part of our consciousness. The issue is that the image we see on social media is often a low quality copy of our pictures, even if we're unaware of this fact. And, the ironic part is that even though our selfies and food photos are stored in a second location, many of our much more important documents are left vulnerable. The good news is that the action of uploading and saving a copy of those digital files to an additional location is beginning to condition us to back up and protect more of our data overall.

Why shouldn't we be thinking this way? With recent advances in cloud technologies and user experiences, backing up data is now as simple as pressing "upload." That's how it works with Instagram, right?

But so much of our personal information – the really personal stuff – isn't backed up properly, safely and securely. Why isn't all of our data, not just a few of our personal photos stored safe and sound somewhere out in the digital universe? What's stopping this effect from making the jump from a social trend to a healthy all-encompassing data habit, where everything is backed up and protected?

The easy answer would be that there is no Facebook for say, your taxes. Startups are making enormous strides in creating data storage systems that feature the easy-to-use and easy-to-access formatting of social media sites, yet the two largest combined have less than 20 percent of Facebook's user numbers. So if it's not an issue of simplicity, what's really keeping The Facebook Conditioning Effect from fully transforming our digital behaviors?

The Problem: Privacy vs. Protection

Even though we've become much more likely to save noncritical files in the cloud, many of us haven't backed up our entire digital lives due to a number of recent high-profile data breach cases which have highlighted our chief concern: our data isn't safe when it's not handled directly by us. Snapchat was hacked and suddenly millions of phone numbers were public. Target's much-ballyhooed breach put the personal information of 70 million individuals at risk.

So while we continue to upload every adorable puppy pic we snap, we hide away what's really important - our work documents, banking information, health records, and other personal and professional information – into old-school file cabinets and documents marked "personal" on our desktops.

The key is identifying and separating the issue of "data privacy" from the idea of "data protection." While data privacy focuses more on the legal and security issues regarding data use and storage, data protection is about safeguarding that information after it has been created and stored.

All Web-enabled device users should be more aware and on-alert when it comes to data privacy such as carefully reading all privacy agreements on sites and apps, and only sharing information that wouldn't jeopardize anything if leaked, but not at the expense of data protection.

When it comes to protecting data, the safest way is to store it in multiple, secure locations. Just as our photos now live both in our devices and on Facebook, keeping important personal information multiple places (i.e. a hard drive and the cloud, a backup drive, etc.) should come as second nature.

To make it simple, just think of the 3-2-1 rule: keep three copies of valuable data on two different types of media, and one copy at a remote location. Remember though, while basic cloud storage tools are a good starting point, they're not foolproof when it comes to security, so finding the right balance of security and simplicity is a key part of the process.

World Backup Day

World Backup Day was on March 31, 2014, and it was a time for all of us to think about what we're really putting at risk by not backing up our data. Disasters natural and manmade – from water damage due to everything from massive floods to spilled drinks, and fried drives from everyday dangers including sun exposure and destructive malware, occur daily and can put all of our information at risk. If there's one useful thing the 351 minutes we each spend on average on Facebook per month can teach us, it's why not spend just one minute to protect our data by keeping extra copies and backing up, not just March 31st but every day.

  • Nat Maple, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Global Consumer/SOHO, OEM and Online, Acronis.