Online Backup Company’s “Data Mining Division” Abandons User Trust

Call me old fashioned or out of touch, but shouldn’t customers of online backup services expect that when they send data to their service provider, it will not be used by anyone, including the online backup provider? So, I’m disturbed that Spare Backup has announced an “Advertising/Data Mining Division” whose job it is to “search for patterns of usage and general data” to build a commercial “intelligent user profile” for each customer.

I want to make it clear in the beginning that the company’s press release from yesterday also included the phrase, “…while protecting privacy and never opening a user’s encrypted personal files.” It also mentioned that this would “significantly enhance the overall user experience.” But, that doesn’t change the outrage.

In fact, I thought this release was so outrageous that I waited a day after the press release was circulated to post this blog entry. I was hoping that it was a joke, and I wanted to see the release on Spare’s own website before I said anything about it. But this morning, it’s there.

Here’s the release in a nutshell. Spare is going to search for patterns of usage “and general data” among its subscriber base, and develop a profile for each user. Spare and its partners will then use that profile to target individual users with specific marketing and advertising. Spare expects to profit from this new venture, and so does the market. Their stock price jumped a fraction on opening this morning.

This is just the kind of thing the online backup industry does NOT NEED right now, in its infancy. Spare should know that one of our major hurdles is convincing customers that we will maintain their privacy. End users want to know that their private data are kept private – not just the contents of the files themselves, but yes, also their “patterns of usage and general data.”

I don’t suppose Spare ran their choice of naming their new division past a focus group. The very LAST thing online backup customers want to know is that their service provider has a “Data Mining Division.” Look, even if this new division is completely innocent, and the data collection is covered under their Terms of Service, and users’ privacy will not be violated (completely), it casts an ominous shadow on Spare and the rest of us, too.

Our business is based on trust. If we don’t have that, we aint’ got nothin’. Spare has caused a problem for the rest of us that we are going to now have to clean up.

Rob Cosgrove
CEO, Remote Backup Sytems, Inc.

About The Author

Steve Roberts /

Steve Roberts is VP of Engineering at Remote Backup Systems (, developers of the RBackup Online Backup software platform, providing software powering more than 9,500 Service Providers in 65 countries since 1987.