February 1, 2013

“How can we turn privacy into a tangible?”

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In stride with 2013 as ‘The Year of Privacy’, SpiderOak launched a ‘Zero-Knowledge’ Privacy Ambassador (ZKPA) program.

We have nine ZKPAs from around the world who we will introduce you to in the coming weeks. Our ZKPAs will help inform and educate people on the importance of preserving privacy in everyday online life. Please lend them a warm welcome as they lead the change in advocating for privacy…

Meet Rob

Rob Simmons is a SpiderOak ZKPA hailing from St. Louis, MO. He has been working with computers professionally for the past 16 years. His day job includes management of NetApp, EMC, and Oracle disk and tape storage systems. His evenings and weekends include running Wycombe, LLC, (@WycombeLLC) which provides IT consulting solely to small businesses. While serving in the US Air Force he had the distinct honor of being stationed in an English sheep field. After his Honorable Discharge, Rob helped build a small telecom startup and obtained a Bachelor’s of Computer Science with an emphasis on Information Technology in 2009.

Why are you so passionate about privacy?

RS: We are in the ‘Share It All’ age. I think this is horrible. It is not necessary to share every aspect of your life, where you are this very moment, what you’re doing, where you’ve been, or what you plan. There are consequences for sharing it all. Namely, a complete loss of privacy. By sharing everything going on in your life, you give other people (sometimes malicious, sometimes not) the ability to rebroadcast your life any way they please without your permission.

Ensuring privacy is essential in navigating our online lives where every click we perform, every post we make, every picture we upload is replicated hundreds, maybe thousands of times. At that point a person has lost control of their privacy. It also lowers the excitement in meeting a new person, in making friends, or even developing a romantic relationship. The ability to learn something new about someone is eliminated when that person has given up his privacy. I’m passionate about privacy because I want all people to be able to selectively control the way their personal data is released.

What did you find most interesting about SpiderOak?

RS: Honestly, until the spring of 2012 I never heard of SpiderOak. Nor did I have any sort of backup solution for my computer. I got away with “winging it” for all these years. As part of my duties with my employer, I was tasked to research online cloud backup, sync, and recovery companies and their offerings. Among all companies and products I researched, not one came close to offering the critical level of digital security and personal privacy that SpiderOak offers. Others do a good job, but SpiderOak’s security structure is as near bulletproof as you can get. I was truly impressed. So impressed that I signed up for an account. After seeing how well SpiderOak worked for me I signed up my mother, two brothers, grandmother, grandfather, and my wife. My entire family is now a SpiderOak family.

What are some of the biggest challenges you see for advocating privacy?

RS: Privacy is not something that people actively think about. They think about seemingly more pressing items such as finances, car maintenance, home maintenance, work-related tasks, and family issues. These are all tangible items in their life. Things they experience, perform, or feel emotionally. Privacy, and especially online privacy, is an intangible item. How can we turn privacy into a tangible? Something a person can feel, touch, and understand? Once it’s turned into a tangible it will remain at the front of people’s minds along with all their other concerns.

Where do you see the online cloud industry in 5 years?

RS: It’s going to get bigger. Exponentially larger. Data center and data warehouse architects should be quite busy. I see a massive consolidation of disparate online items. Microsoft is going forth in a way I think will be the future. Microsoft is consolidating their desktop, mobile, and gaming platforms into one common system. And it’s all interfacing with Microsoft’s painfully non-private cloud storage: SkyDrive.

But it’s not just desktop, mobile, and gaming I see as part of the consolidation. I can see medical records, academic records, purchase histories, ebooks, music, accounts (online credentials), recorded VoIP calls, and who knows what else to be stored in a personal cloud. You could tell the doctor to just send your medical records to your personal SpiderOak storage. You’ll tell your VoIP service provider to record and send all calls to your SpiderOak storage. Receipts? Send it to storage. Ebook delivery? Not to a particular device, to storage. I think online cloud companies are going to have to look far ahead and see how they can become a person’s “personal storage” company that the user can access from any device, any location, at any time.

What do you hope to accomplish as a ZKPA?

RS: I’d like to get computer users to begin to think critically about their privacy and security of their personal files.

I’m sure many folks will brush off privacy with the statement they have nothing to hide. Well, truth be told, I don’t either. If you’ve nothing to hide, why close your drapes in the evening, why drop your blinds, and why close your outside door? People instinctively like their privacy even if they don’t know it. It just feels better knowing others aren’t looking in on you. Personal privacy is a natural thing for humans to enjoy. I want computer users to realize they should treat their files the same way. Make them private and share them only if they choose to do so. By stressing the ability users will have in selecting who has access to their files, I’ll be strengthening their freedom of choice. People would much rather be able to choose among a set of choices than none at all.

We are proud to have Rob aboard! If you have any questions for Rob, please feel free to write in the comments or find him on Twitter.

Next week, we’ll introduce another ZKPA…

  1. This is a good story. I recently became a SpiderOak convert. I had looked at spideroak a couple of years ago then went with another solution. I have been in the computer (hardware and software) business for over 20 years and over the last year or so I have been looking for a good cloud solution for home use to begin with. I have a family website which I developed and his used by over 200 family members so I really started to think about cloud but more importantly, privacy !. I have tried at least 50 different solutions none of which matched SpiderOak solution. I wanted online backup and sync as well. Also the best security layers to match the need. I backup my home system all of the time but realized I needed something offsite with someone I could trust. SpikderOak fits the bill. This was a great story Rob about privacy and cloud. Ditto.