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    Washington Post: As Web sites come and go, so too could the information you entrust them with

    The Washington Post looks at how Web sites can be ephemeral, and the data you give that site could disappear or you could lose control over the photos, videos, or other information on the site.

    As a flood of family photos, videos and holiday greetings hits the Internet this time of year, online users will be swarming the social-networking and photo-sharing sites that have become the personal scrapbooks of our time.

    But in the shaky and often promiscuous business of the Web, where companies fold and merge at astonishing speed, you can’t always trust that those sites will take long-term care of your digital treasures.

    Gowalla, a service that lets users announce their whereabouts, is set to close down in weeks. In October, Google canned its social network Google Buzz. The Web’s first major social network, Friendster, was overhauled in June to focus on video games.

    In many cases, the data that people have entrusted to such sites exist in a cyber limbo, and users’ rights are unclear. […]

    The details of a user’s rights are often embedded in long legal policies that federal regulators complain are often too confusing and seldom read. […]

    Letting go becomes harder when some of the Web’s biggest sites face uncertainty. As Eastman Kodak tries to shore up its finances, questions surround the fate of the photo albums created by its 75 million Kodak Gallery users, some analysts say.

    After acquisitions, users of Flickr saw their albums moved to Yahoo, and Picasa users’ photos were migrated to Google. Those sites were able to fold customers’ information into their other services for targeted advertising. If Kodak is acquired, rights to its Gallery photos will go to the new buyer, too, according to its online legal policy. A Kodak spokesman declined to comment on the company’s business plans and referred questions about user rights to the company’s privacy policy.

    That policy says users have the right to request that images not go to another company.

    But there are no standard privacy rules for Web sites, federal enforcement officials say, and consumers encounter many practices. […]

    Consumers might find even bigger surprises when an entire business fails. Bookseller Borders this year auctioned off its customer database, including purchase history, in bankruptcy court. Information about users on the defunct gay youth Web site XY were put up for sale, too, until the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to prevent the sale.

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