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22 Sep 2010

Facebook privacy and the launch of Diaspora

Social networking has been a major part of the rise of ‘Web 2.0’, a phrase coined to represent the move towards greater information sharing and collaboration on the internet. While MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin and others have played their part, Facebook dominates social networking. As of July, 500 million people around the world use Facebook actively.

As people increasingly share information on the internet there have, however, been growing concerns about the privacy. Earlier this year, Facebook came under increased pressure over poor privacy controls and a lack of transparency about how it used user data. A backlash against Facebook culminated in a project to develop Diaspora; an open source, private and secure alternative that is launched in October.

Facebook has been criticised for allowing user details and comments to be accessible to all by default. In July, Ron Bowles, an online security consultant, published the personal details of millions of users he had harvested from the website to highlight the issue. The company argued that this information was already in the public domain, but it prompted anger from millions of users.

There are numerous cases of employees getting into trouble after falling foul of the privacy settings. Office staff, waitresses and cabin crew have been sacked in high profile cases where employers have discovered inappropriate online comments. Others have caused havoc in their social lives posting comments and details unaware how openly accessible they are.

Following a crisis meeting, Facebook have now made further changes to the privacy settings aimed at placating the backlash. Users can now manage their overall privacy settings in one simple control. Despite the uproar, the site is continuing to grow, with an estimated one in six webpages visited in the UK being a Facebook page according to research published by Hitwise.

It will be interesting to see how Diaspora performs in the face of such dominance. This new social networking software has strict privacy settings allowing users to share content with specific groups of their choice, and all traffic is signed and encrypted.

The backing for greater privacy is clear. The four founders of Diaspora originally turned to the fundraising site Kickstarter to raise the $10,000 they thought they would need to build the system. Interest was so great that they ended up raising $200,642 from nearly 6,500 people.

You can sign up for Diaspora now.

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