2009-04-16

Bookmark Synchronization

I've been using a plug-in called Foxmarks to synchronize the bookmarks between the copies of Firefox on my various machines. Over the past month they have changed their name to Xmarks, and today they offered my browser an update which changes the name and adds... I'm not really sure what they're adding for me, but their big thing is cross-browser compatibility. Apparently they now have plug-ins for Safari and IE, so all three browsers can share bookmarks. I rarely use Safari and I never use IE, so it doesn't really interest me.

What concerns me is privacy, which I'm sure is no big surprise to those of you who know me. My bookmarks are MY business, and if I want to share them with somebody else, I will do so on my own terms.

Foxmarks came pre-configured to set up an account on the Foxmarks server, however they also had a way to store the synchronized bookmark database on your own server. Their web site used to make this feature very obvious. The new Xmarks plug-in still has this feature, however their new web site doesn't mention it at all- their big selling point now seems to be that when you do a search, it recommends other web sites based on how many other people have bookmarked that site.

The sudden shift in focus worries me. Instead of concentrating on providing a useful tool for their users, their primary focus now seems to be their "recommendation" service. It almost feels like a bait-and-switch, as if they've tricked everybody into donating their bookmark lists so they could build up this aggregate database of bookmarks, and are now changing their focus to try and monetize it- I'm guessing by selling the opportunity for advertisers to buy their way to the top of the bookmark recommendation list, regardless of how many people may or may not have recommended them. (Remember, people don't host services like this unless they expect to somehow make money off of it.)

Of course, the only way they could know what other people's bookmarks are, is by reading them from the bookmark files stored on their own servers... that much seems obvious. But I have to wonder, if they've been planning this change all along, if the plug-in hasn't been sending a copy of my bookmarks to them anyway, even though I haven't (knowingly) been using their server?

So I have already un-installed it from my desktop and laptop machines, and will be removing it from the other "sometimes they get used" machines (an old G5 iMac, the Windows and Linux portions of an Acer Aspire One, and the Linux machine on my desk at home) the next time I use Firefox on each one.

I have replaced Foxmarks/Xmarks with SyncPlaces, which does the same basic job but emphasizes privacy by NOT having their own server- basically they WANT you to host the sync'ed bookmarks on your own server somewhere.

1 comment:

MojoSteve the Lightningman said...

That's the John we know & love...stickin' it to The Man!

It was probably just the Feral Gummint trying to spy on you via bookmark aggragation....wouldn't surprise me.