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[opensource] Omlet: new privace-based social network

Todd Davies davies at stanford.edu
Wed Mar 12 11:04:22 PDT 2014


http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/march/privacy-economy-app-031014.html

Stanford Report, March 10, 2014
Stanford lab yields new privacy-based social network

With rising public interest in what developers refer to as the "privacy 
economy," a new app allows users to control their personal data.

By Andrew Myers
Joel Simon Monica Lam

Monica Lam, professor of computer science, is director of the MobiSocial 
Computing Laboratory.

Amid much fanfare, word came last week that Facebook was acquiring 
messaging application WhatsApp for $19 billion. In the days that followed, 
competitors saw a flood of traffic. Industry watchers heralded the move as 
a bellwether of the deep public distrust of the largest of today's social 
networks.

Against this backdrop, researchers from the MobiSocial Lab at the Stanford 
School of Engineering have announced a new type of social network, called 
Omlet, which shields users from the monetization of their personal lives 
by giving them total and unquestioned control of their personal data.

Billions of people conduct their personal lives and house much of their 
personal data via such proprietary social channels, essentially giving 
their private data away. They offer up valuable information about their 
networks of friends and colleagues, their personal photos and life events 
and, often, their deepest desires and fears.

The social media giants, in turn, claim ownership of, and profit from, 
this data, a practice referred to as "monetization" of personal 
information.

Omlet's creators are heralding the release as the first venture of what 
they call the "privacy economy." The privacy economy is based on the 
premise that people will be willing to pay a modest upfront price to join 
social networks that guarantee the integrity of their personal data.
Free of data monetization

"With news of NSA eavesdropping and the ever-inscrutable, ever-evolving 
privacy policies of proprietary social networks, the public is 
increasingly and understandably concerned about where, when and how their 
personal information is being used," said Monica Lam, a professor of 
computer science at Stanford and founder of the MobiSocial lab and a 
startup by the same name, MobiSocial.

MobiSocial was founded by Lam and three of her former Stanford PhD 
students, Ben Dodson, T. J. Purtell and Ian Vo. The lab was an offshoot of 
a $10 million grant by the National Science Foundation in 2008, 
specifically aimed at creating a Programmable Open Mobile Internet, or 
POMI for short.

"At POMI, our group was concerned about privacy from the very start," Lam 
said. "We were looking to drive a new type of messaging and app platform 
that is free of monetization of data. That's what the privacy economy is 
all about."

"Omlet is the first platform that puts control of that data back in the 
users' hands in an app environment that is as easy to use as any of 
today's most popular social channels," added Dodson.
Decentralization

To illustrate Omlet's ease of use, Lam described how a group of wedding 
guests might join a private, on-site chat at which they share a jointly 
created photo album in real time on their smartphones. Later, they'd be 
able to easily recall those photos by simply entering data about the 
occasion – the name of the bride or groom, for instance.

In technical terms, Omlet is a "distributed semantic file system," which 
means that the data storage is decentralized and, therefore, not under the 
control of any one network. The data exists instead as a collection of 
private files stored on each network member's personal cloud storage 
service of choice and is fully indexed for easy recall.

Students at Stanford, for instance, are accorded a personal Box.net 
account with 25 gigabytes of storage space when they enroll. Using Omlet, 
all their social interactions, shared photos, likes and dislikes can be 
directed to this private repository, far from prying eyes.

"Omlet users are not even tied into any one cloud storage service; they 
could just as easily choose to direct their files to Dropbox, Google 
Drive, Baidu Cloud or other cloud system of their choice," said Purtell.

As an open-source application, Omlet is infinitely customizable by outside 
developers. Lam likens Omlet to a browser. How people choose to modify the 
browser environment is up to the programmers.

Andrew Myers writes for the School of Engineering.
Media Contact

Jamie Beckett, School of Engineering: (650) 736-2241, 
jbeckett at stanford.edu

© Stanford University. All Rights Reserved. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 
723-2300.


Todd Davies                   ***  email: davies at stanford.edu
Symbolic Systems Program      ***  phone: 1-650-723-4091
Stanford University           ***  fax: 1-650-723-5666
Stanford, CA, 94305-2150      ***  web: www.stanford.edu/~davies
USA                           ***  office: 460-040C


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