Though the spark may come from having enjoyed OK Computer in the car the same day as watching a Black Sabbath documentary on the BBC, a couple of recent posts seemed worth bundling into one gloom-filled diatribe. In one, Mark Wilson is having to bury one of his Lua progeny and writes an obituary “Death of a Lighroom plug-in”:

Earlier this week drop.io announced that it was acquired by Facebook and will be stopping its excellent file sharing and collaboration service.

This in turn has the effect of killing all the great products that were created based on the drop.io platform…including my Photo-drop Lr plug-in for Adobe Lightroom.

I’ve never used drop.io (and dislike Facebook with a growing intensity) but I heard about the acquisition earlier in the week and my alarming first thought was that it was something connected to Dropbox, which I do use. As far as I can tell, they are totally-unrelated services, so alarm over. Or not quite – cloud storage leaves you at the system owner’s mercy. And will that ever change?

"Sharing" sounds so sweet and innocent, but is there any other defence to how social media corporates treat your metadata?

The second post was on photo sharing services. Circle of Confusion’s Beware Social Media Platforms That Steal Big License Rights zooms in on the small print which could very easily allow the service provider to make money from using your pictures. For some of us this isn’t news, and when I was writing the Morel case post I actually read through Twitpic’s current terms and conditions, a series of interlocking loopholes to which the only defence seems to be sharing your pictures only once they are defaced with a nice big copyright watermark. But the other thing to mention is that it’s not just the terms and conditions that you need to watch – it’s also what happens to your metadata.

Here I would point you to David Riecks’s hugely-valuable ongoing survey Preservation of Photo Metadata by Social Media Websites. Make sure you look at the spreadsheet showing his findings, and also see the comment about Facebook’s stripping of metadata which describes it as “an overly aggressive attempt to comply with the users’ wishes for better privacy”.

Corporates like Facebook are really in a no-win situation and simply cannot be expected to be right in every case when they strip or preserve image metadata. For every photographer who must hide that they shot a great picture on an embarrassingly-crap camera, there will be someone else wanting to share the minutiae of exposure settings down to the D-Lighting, whatever that may be. Family members’ names, GPS co-ordinates and other location details, or simply the photographer’s own name can all be argued each way in different circumstances. Strip or preserve decisions are always individual judgement calls. Even if we (hypothetically) discount evil greed from the web service’s thinking process, “they” will never get it right and will always make wrong assumptions to delete or preserve certain metadata. Or they’ll just do something accidentally and without thinking of all the consequences.

I’m not absolving the social media corporates from responsibility for preserving metadata or from informing you of their policies in readable English, but would you ever trust any business whose future depends on monetising personal data? Even if their current terms appear reasonable and seem to protect everyone, will you pick up the implications when they subsequently change them? After all,we’re in a world where a sweet little “Search for your friends?” means “Can we data mine your email client?” And CollegeStartup.inc could easily be snapped up by Google or Apple or someone else with their own particular attitudes to your personal information (I’m not really picking on Facebook but they are already part-owned by mail.ru). Even if their small print doesn’t sign your life away, they’ll strip you bare and sell your worldly goods. Look after yourself.