My 5/16/10 Missoulian column
Privacy concerns at the very popular social networking service Facebook have suffered even more in the past few months. The service has been in the news since last fall over changes to their privacy policies, which opened up previously private information on users to the public.
Now, recent security snafus at the popular social networking site have revealed private messages to public view, and changes to the service that automatically opted-in people to what Facebook calls Connected Profiles and transferred personal information to advertisers with little or no notification to the user.
These news reports prompted four U.S. senators to write an open letter to Facebook, warning that the Federal Trade Commission may get involved if privacy concerns aren’t addressed. They wrote that Facebook should change its policies so that sharing personal information is opt-in instead of the default opt-out.
Opt-in means each user is asked specifically for the permissions for each kind and category of information to be open to the public or private. Opt-out means that all private information is distributed the way the service wants, unless each user specifically says no. (And in some cases, users can’t opt-out even if they want to).
Even though many bloggers and news pundits have quit Facebook over what they see – and rightfully so – Facebook isn’t going anywhere soon, not with 350 million users.
However, a recent tech startup has asked the question: “Why can’t privacy and social networking go hand-in-hand?”
The new The Diaspora Project is an undertaking to build an “anti-Facebook” – an open-source social network that let’s users control their personal data. All data, services and connections would be by default opt-in. You only share exactly what you want among those you choose.
The Diaspora Project is open source, which means the code is there for all to see and work with, and it’s also a distributed network, so that there is no central repository of all the information. There is no private company to arbitrarily change privacy policies and release information without consent.
Is the world ready for an anti-Facebook? Maybe so: The Diaspora Project has already raised more than enough funding (and ahead of schedule) that it needs to start work. But when it’s built, will users leave Facebook?
This week in Mac Q & A: Extending a Wi-fi Network