Did You Clean Out Your Locker?: Yahoo Shuts Its Online Storage Service

Yahoo! is closing its online storage service Briefcase. According to CNET the service started about ten years ago. Now Yahoo! is telling customers that they have until March 30 to “to retrieve or delete their documents.” As some of you know, I have been writing about who owns material stored online. My piece, Property, Persona, and Preservation, argues that the creator of such material owns the work and that storage services do not. That being said, an online storage company should be able to provide a healthy amount of notice and then close its service as Yahoo! is doing here. The one thing that makes me wonder what Yahoo! is thinking is the word “delete.” Would Yahoo! claim that failure to retrieve or delete material means that Yahoo! owns the work? It might. Would the work stay around forever at Yahoo!? I doubt that. I think the best practice for Yahoo! is to encourage people to retrieve and delete their material and then state that after X date, all material will be deleted.

On a business note, Briefcase offered 30MB and Yahoo!’s statement about the closing–“usage has been significantly declining over the years, as users outgrew the need for Yahoo Briefcase and turned to offerings with much more storage and enhanced sharing capabilities,”–seems to support the move. Yet, the article also stated that Microsoft’s SkyDrive offers 25GB and the Google (yes the Google) is close to offering a similar product called GDrive regarding which the file text claims “provides reliable storage for all of your files, including photos, music and documents [and] allows you to access your files from anywhere, any time and from any device – be it from your desktop, web browser or mobile phone.” So why hasn’t Yahoo! offered a free upgrade? Is the Briefcase brand that weak (or non-existent)?

Put differently, if cloud computing, or as I call it, technologically mediated and stored creation persists as the way we create, why is Yahoo! moving away from this area? In addition, regardless of Yahoo!’s change, Microsoft and Google are pushing for this approach. That is part of why I wrote Property, Persona, and Preservation. A huge amount of our work continues to be outside our control. There are some great benefits to that change, but some serious problems with it too. The paper tries to look at how these changes affect access to knowledge and how we understand ownership of creations. If we don’t pay attention, we may find we lost our work because we forgot to clean out our locker or that someone cleaned it out for us.