MyCube: Protect online persona from 'digital murder'

Internet users must start taking personal responsibility over their online identities, or risk losing their digital assets to companies which will exploit and monetize the content, urges technopreneur Johan Stael von Holstein.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Start taking personal responsibility and control of your digital identity, or risk subjecting your online persona to "evil" companies such as Facebook and Google to freely exploit for monetary gains.

That is the message Johan Stael von Holstein, the Swede Internet entrepreneur behind startup MyCube, wants to spread globally and in Asia.

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, he noted that a person's digital assets and digital identity should not be owned by anybody "but yourself". Digital assets or Web properties can range from an individual's blog posts, photos, personal profile, experience and interaction with his contacts on a social networking site, e-mail messages and addresses, virtual credits and online billing histories.

von Holstein, the 47-year-old CEO of startup MyCube--which he founded in 2008--said most Internet users have yet to realize that they are "giving away parts of their brains, knowledge and experience to Web 2.0 companies to freely exploit for their own benefit".

In two to three years' time, however, he said more people will mature and finally grasp that these companies are exploiting consumers' digital assets for considerable monetary value. Then, online users will take steps to protect their digital identity, he noted, enabling them to have full control and discretion of how their online content should be organized and managed--and subsequently monetized, should they choose to.

And when they do, MyCube is banking on its digital life management services to help users regain "privacy, control and ownership" of their digital lives. The MyCube Vault, for example, which was launched Nov. 28, is an open source storage application that allows users to make on-demand or automated backups of their social media content from various sites, such as Facebook, e-mail, Flickr, among others. The aggregated content can then be stored in their computer's harddrive.

The company is now prepping to the public release of its second service, MyCube Exchange, touted as a user-centric, content-rich, next-generation social network where users have complete control over their privacy and interactions on the Web. For instance, the site's default privacy setting for a profile's will be 'private' instead of 'public'.

Currently available in private beta, von Holstein said the public beta of Exchange is set to launch Jan. 15 next year in Singapore, Sweden, Great Britain and Australia, and will go global Feb. 15.

According to the CEO, there are already "tens of thousands of pre-registrations" for Vault and Exchange across the globe.

Before MyCube, the Swede had co-founded Web consultancy firm IconMedialab in 1996, set up e-commerce site Letsbuyit.com--which has since been sold--and started entrepreneurship center IQube.

Facebook is "dead"
For von Holstein, user privacy boils down to one thing: "You cannot trust anybody but yourself."

While the Internet entrepreneur acknowledged that MyCube is akin to the antithesis of Facebook--at least, in its stance on user privacy--he noted that "MyCube isn't going to kill Facebook". "That's not my ambition… I just want to make sure that Facebook cannot spy and steal [content that] is not theirs," he said.

Vocal in his criticism of Facebook co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, von Holstein dismissed 26-year-old Zuckerberg's statement that "the age of privacy is over".

von Holstein said: "He's one of the richest guys in the world. Do you think he's going to put on Facebook where he lives and when he's out driving?

"I'm absolutely sure of the fact that Facebook is dead, whether MyCube launches or not. [Zuckerberg] just doesn't know it yet. People [are going to revolt] for a thousand different reasons," he said. "The [monetary] values he is stealing off individuals that are not his--that monetization needs to be given back to these individuals."

Committing "digital murder"
According to von Holstein, taking personal responsibility of one's digital life is also essential in the volatile corporate world. Elaborating, he referred to the past glories of Internet kings, search engine Alta Vista and Web browser Netscape, which shelf-lives have since expired.

"We do not know who is going to run Facebook 10 years from now or whether it will get bought by China. What if Flickr goes bankrupt, what happens to the thousands of photos I uploaded there? There are a thousand reasons why we cannot give away our digital assets to somebody else," he said.

Describing the removal of one's online identity as equivalent to "digital murder", he reiterated the importance of protecting protect one's digital life.

"If someone deletes your physical identity, we call it murder, and it's illegal for a very good reason. So if [a social network] deletes me, my digital identity, isn't that digital murder? Shouldn't that be totally illegal?" he questioned.

von Holstein recounted how the Facebook account of his son, then 10 years old, was deleted by the social networking site after an adult--whose friend request was rejected--made a report against his son.

"My son's Facebook friends were as true and real to him as our relationships in the real world. [Facebook] totally took away his online social status--all his 350 friends, gone. He was digitally murdered by Mark Zuckerberg.

"And if Mark Zuckerberg finds out I'm building MyCube and dislikes me, he can delete my Facebook account," he added. "[All] my friends and saved messages are in the hands of a guy, who at his will at any time, can delete me just because he wants to. That is a nightmare."

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