The protests have been going on for some time and the complaints are fairly well known. Facebook, which has a monopoly in the world of social networking, has been accused of violating the privacy of its millions of users. People attending the 'Unlike Us' conference in Amsterdam say it’s time for some new sites on the social networking scene: "It's time to take on Facebook!"
Developers of new networks - most of them Facebook haters - gathered in Amsterdam this past weekend to discuss alternative social media platforms. The key ideas discussed were 'privacy', 'anonymity', and 'control over one's own data'.
Mark Stumpel, new media researcher and the creator of the Unlike Us conference, explains why alternatives are so necessary:
"It's really important for people to realise that social media isn't only Facebook. That's why we're focusing on decentralised alternatives. We're talking about using your own server, with better security, more privacy and better control over the information on the server. It's the opposite of Facebook, whereby all your data goes on to a huge centralised server."
Recent events have proven that Facebook isn't always the safest place to share. During the Arab Spring, Facebook was used to organise demonstrations but repressive governments were quick to exploit social media platforms to spy on and arrest dissidents.
Reducing the danger
In order to create a safer way of sharing data, Michael Rogers (who is not on Facebook) has spent the last year creating a network called Briar.
“Briar's software allows people to create networks with any equipment that they've got. People can create networks with a couple of smart phones and a few laptops and then communicate with each other. The data it is encrypted and people don't have to wait for an internet connection. It makes people far more autonomous and it's ideal for people who are living under repressive governments."
Briar is still in development and the software is being tested now.
The Freedombox is similar idea but it's a bit further along in the development process. It's a box roughly the size of a paperback and packed with software that protects the security of the user. James Vasile, (who does have a Facebook account but uses the highest privacy settings), explains how it works.
"It's a service that offers freedom. Someone living under an authoritarian regime can use the box to get an internet connection via somebody living in the free world. This will allow them to see websites that are banned in their own countries."
The Freedombox is currently being tested in several countries.
An alternative social network site that already has online followers is Elijah Sparrow's Crabgrass. According to Sparrow, (who is not on Facebook), social media is concerned with all the wrong things at the moment:
"It's all extremely egocentric; it's all about me, me, me. Crabgrass works from the premise that there are groups you can be part of. The platform is extremely transparent; people know who has access to what information. Everything works from within the groups and security is our top priority."
Crabgrass has around 30,000 active members at the moment, most of them rumoured to be activist groups.
Getting rid of the middle man
Both Freedombox and Briar will go into the next phase of testing in the coming months and hope to go online shortly afterwards. Whether they’ll manage to dethrone Facebook remains to be seen. Stumpel says the new social media networks are about principles and there are no commercial or financial interests that need to be satisfied.
"Not everybody has the ambition to be the king of the hill. It's about getting rid of the middle-men, Facebook and Google. They frequently have a very bad effect on the control of our information."
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