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[liberationtech] Identi.ca, Diaspora, and Friendica are more secure alternatives to Facebook.
companys at stanford.edu
Mon Jun 17 16:13:00 PDT 2013
Slate makes mistake of calling them "more secure."
How to Block the NSA From Your Friends List
By April Glaser and Libby Reinish
Posted Monday, June 17, 2013, at 11:12 AM
If you don't trust this guy with your data, there are other
After recent revelations of NSA spying, it’s difficult to trust large
Internet corporations like Facebook to host our online social
networks. Facebook is one of nine companies tied to PRISM––perhaps the
largest government surveillance effort in world history. Even before
this story broke, many social media addicts had lost trust in the
company. Maybe now they’ll finally start thinking seriously about
leaving the social network giant.
Luckily, there are other options, ones that are less vulnerable to
government spying and offer users more control over their personal
data. But will mass migration from Facebook actually happen?
According to a Pew study released weeks before news of PRISM broke,
teenagers are disenchanted with Facebook. They're moving to other
platforms, like Snapchat and (Facebook owned) Instagram, the study
reports. This is the way a social network dies—people sign up for
multiple platforms before gradually realizing that one has become
vacant or uninteresting. Myspace, for instance, took years to drop off
the map. By 2006 Myspace reached 100 million users, making it the most
popular social network in the United States. But by 2008, Facebook had
reached twice that number, less than two years after allowing anyone
older than 13 to join the network.
Benjamin Mako Hill, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and
Society, thinks Facebook's ability to connect people and bind them to
the social network is overrated to begin with. "Facebook didn't exist,
what, 10 years ago,” he says, and in 10 years, he thinks, “a company
called Facebook will exist, but will it occupy the same space in our
culture? That's certainly not something I'm willing to take for
Teens may be turning to Instagram and Snapchat, but those services
don’t offer the deeper levels of social networking that Facebook users
are accustomed to, with photo albums, event invites, fan pages, and
connections to old friends. Ultimately, teens may be smart not to
consolidate all of their social networking on one platform—but
Instagram, Snapchat, and some other new flavors of the month all use
centralized servers that are incredibly easy to spy on.
But there are other places to go. For years, the free software
movement has been developing and using social networks designed with
user privacy in mind. Unlike Facebook, these social networks are not
hosted by a single entity's privately owned servers but rather by
volunteers across the world that share server space in order to
maintain a decentralized, robust network. When a company like Facebook
hosts the data of more than 1 billion users, it's not hard for the
government to simply ask for permission to access that data,
conveniently stored all in one place.
Gabriella Coleman, a professor of scientific and technological
literacy at McGill University, points out that companies like Facebook
would be collecting data on individuals regardless of government
requests. That's how the vast majority of free online social networks
make money; they use data mining to sell targeted, contextual ads. "In
some ways,” she says, “that's the source of the problem, the fact that
we've just given up all of our data in return for free services."
Community-hosted, decentralized social media, on the other hand, allow
people to maintain ownership of their data. These platforms use a
principle called “federation” to connect a vast network of servers to
one another. If the NSA wants to collect the data of all the users on
a decentralized network, it has to contend with a large number of
disparate server owners who could be anywhere in the world, a much
more complicated task than issuing a single subpoena or hacking into a
"There's a resiliency to having data spread across multiple sites;
that's the way the web was intended to work, and we need to bring that
back,” says Christopher Webber, the founder of MediaGoblin, a
federated, free software replacement for YouTube, Flickr, SoundCloud,
and other media hosting services. Other projects, like Identi.ca
(which is similar to Twitter), Diaspora, and Friendica are
replacements for conventional social media networks, and they work.
The number of users on federated networks is hard to calculate—again,
their data are spread out instead of stored centrally—but Identi.ca
alone counts 1.5 million users.
PRISM could be the impetus that gets more communities to begin using
these networks. As of Monday morning, nearly 200,000 people have
signed a petition that calls for an investigation of the NSA's spying
program, and last week activists launched prism-break.org, a site that
offers a menu of options for those looking to "opt out" of government
The NSA’s spy apparatus worked because of the centrally owned and
operated networks we have relied on to socialize. How the PRISM story
will play out politically remains uncertain, but there are more
immediate ways for users to regain privacy. Try another social
network, and bring your friends to experiment with you. If you oppose
turnkey government spying, go where the NSA doesn’t have a backdoor.
Disclaimer: Libby Reinish is an employee of the Free Software
Foundation, which is a member of StopWatching.Us, a coalition of more
than 75 organizations calling for a full congressional investigation
of the NSA's spying program.
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