04/12/2013 06:55 GMT | Updated 02/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Where Is Your Stuff?

You probably have a sock drawer littered with lonesome socks for which you could swear there used to be a partner. The Internet has become the sock drawer of digital content. The problem with the Internet is that someone else might be wearing the other sock!

Do you know where all of your possessions are right now within your house? The answer is probably no. For one thing, you probably have a sock drawer littered with lonesome socks for which you could swear there used to be a partner. The Internet has become the sock drawer of digital content. The problem with the Internet is that someone else might be wearing the other sock!

You have a colossal amount of digital stuff

Your photos, documents, music and videos are spread across various social media services, like Facebook, Picassa, YouTube, iCloud and Instagram, not to mention all those sites you tried and didn't take to, but forgot to close your account. Then there are all the devices where you have stored your stuff too, like your mobile phone, your tablet, your personal laptop and your work one. You may also have an external hard drive or USB stick full of data too. Suddenly, it's starting to look like a bit of a mess.

Now think about the amount of data you are likely to produce in your lifetime simply based on current technologies. That is a lot of stuff to manage. If you think your data is out in the wild and not under control now, imagine what it will be like in five, ten or fifty years.

Last year, I found myself looking for an old family video that I knew was on one of my numerous external hard drives. When I eventually located the external hard drive and plugged it in, of course the hard disk was corrupt and my video was lost forever. That sad lesson learned, I now use a service called younited which will avoid such situations in the future.

Similarly, I lost count of the times I asked my kids to backup up their phones, PCs and notebooks to then have to console them when the device has been lost, stolen or broken meaning their photos are all lost. Now we no longer have to rely on all these external hard discs as all your data is stored in the cloud automatically. But where is your data going and who really owns it?

Your data? Think again.

Of course, I use the term 'your data', but it's not solely yours. Even when you delete your stuff from some of these sites (such as Facebook), they keep a copy of your data. The creepiness continues when you know that they want to sell your data to other companies. Don't get me wrong, advertising is not inherently a bad thing (especially if you want a free service).

However, if you email yourself a photo from your Gmail account with no words in the email or subject line - just the photo - Google will look at that photo and use that to start showing you adverts related to the photo subject. Send a photo of a bike and you will start seeing ads for cycle shops and new models of mountain bikes. That is where advertising takes a giant leap over the creepy line. It's simply intrusive. The question then becomes 'what else could "they" do with my data?'

As the recent furore around the Edward Snowden leaks has shown, the US Government's National Security Agency (NSA) has access to the servers of multiple Internet giants headquartered in the US, including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Apple. This means that any interaction you have had with these sites can be monitored by the US Government. So it's not your content any more, it's the Internet company and the US Government's and that could just be the tip of the iceberg.

What a good content cloud service looks like

So, what do you need to do to avoid this snooping and to protect your stuff? Use a fully encrypted cloud service which incorporates anti-virus to make sure that malware doesn't corrupt your precious photos, videos and the like. And unless you want to open the door to the US Government, you're best using a non-American service, where the servers are based in a country which respects privacy.

It is time to get proactive and take control of your data. It is yours, after all.

There are many cloud storage services out there which will act as a locker for your content. However, you still need to be able to share your content with your friends and family, so make sure it has this capability. It is best to use a service which will also scan all of your content for infected files to make sure you don't start sharing viruses, as this will not make you popular.

You should be able to automatically sync all your devices to it, so that everything is saved in one central place and can be accessed by you from anywhere. Then look at how this service interacts with other online services, like your favourite social media sites. You want to still be able to put your photos on Facebook, but you just want to give Facebook a link to your photos, not the photos themselves. They have no use for copying links, so you remain in control.

Ultimately, we need to start taking care of our stuff better. The problem of where your stuff is and who has access to it will grow each year, along with the size of your collections. Now is the time to take control before someone else does.