Your internet data is rotting

Many MySpace users were dismayed to discover earlier this year that the social media platform lost 50 million files uploaded between 2003 and 2015.

The failure of MySpace to care for and preserve its users’ content should serve as a reminder that relying on free third-party services can be risky.

MySpace has probably preserved the users’ data; it just lost their content. The data was valuable to MySpace; the users’ content less so.

What happened to MySpace

MySpace is a social networking media site where performers could upload music or other content for access and distribution to its user community. It has always been a free site, with revenues coming from ads and programming that targets users for specific products.

Formed in 2003 in imitation of the social gaming site Friendster, MySpace grew rapidly and was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 2005. By 2008, MySpace was the leading social networking site, valued at one time at US$12 billion But it declined in popularity – thanks to an overprevalence of ads, concerns about exposure of minors to sexual content and other issues. In 2011, News Corporation sold MySpace to Specific Media, who sold it again in 2016 to Time Inc., which was in turn bought by the Meredith Corporation in 2018.

So the company went through three changes in ownership over a 12-year period, and saw revenues and membership drop precipitously over that time. One sale might be fine, but three sales over short term suggests to me a troubled business that was not in a good position to watch over others’ intellectual property.

Anyone using MySpace as a storage service who did not have alternate backup is simply out of luck. You left your intellectual property sitting beside the information superhighway, and when you came back 10 years later it was gone.

MySpace is not alone in encountering problems. Amazon cloud services, for example, also experienced a a substantial outage in 2011 and another in 2017. Though temporary, and without actual loss of data, these outages left users without access to precious and important files for some time.

In a statement, Myspace said, ‘We apologize for the inconvenience.’ chrisdorney/shutterstock.com

A much bigger problem

Preserving content or intellectual property on the internet presents a conundrum. If it’s accessible, then it isn’t safe; if it’s safe, then it isn’t accessible.

Accessible content is subject to tampering, theft or other sorts of bad actions. Only content that is inaccessible can be locked and protected from hacking.

The internet currently accesses about 15 zettabytes of data, and is growing at a rate of 70 terabytes per second. It is an admittedly leaky vessel, and content is constantly going offline to wind up lost forever.

Massive and desperate efforts are underway to preserve whatever is worth preserving, but even sorting out what is and what is not is itself a formidable undertaking. What will be of value in 10 years – or 50 years? And how to preserve it?