Is Diaspora the Potential Solution to Internet Privacy and Safety Concerns?: The Social Media Privacy Report


Past installments of this report have discussed a few of the online security and privacy policy loopholes of some of the myriad social networks available today. In April of 2010, four NYU undergraduate students, Dan Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, began to tire of the relentless news breaks about Facebook, Myspace and other social networks that were not taking user privacy seriously.  Their response was to do something about it; using Kickstarter the team raised more than $200,000 toward their goal to build an open source, decentralized social space where users own their personal data and private information.

Diaspora is Born To Protect Internet Safety

Officially launched in its earliest form, called Alpha, at the end of November the site is still a baby and certainly has some growing up to do.  After releasing a non-polished version of open source code in September, only a select group of tech writers, bloggers, nerds and backers have been currently given access. As of press time of this article, the site allows you to sign up to request an invitation to join, but it takes some time to get one.

In one of the developers’ first interviews with the New York Times, founder Salzberg voiced his concerns about why sites like Facebook are dangerous, “When you give up that data, you’re giving it up forever … The value they give us is negligible in the scale of what they are doing, and what we are giving up is all of our privacy.”  From that, Diaspora’s tagline makes perfect sense: “Share what you want, with whom you want.”

The network plans to do this in three ways.

Choice Through Aspects

While Twitter lets your create lists and Facebook gives you groups for organization, Diaspora allows users to create friend clusters called aspects. This feature enables you to manage your contacts easily so that there is more granular and transparent privacy control over who can see what. Creating new aspects is simple enough; each account comes with Friends, Family and Work as the default aspects, but you can add new ones and rename existing aspects, and it is very easy to drag and drop a contact into the aspect that you wish them to be in. Plus, if Joe is both your co-worker and your drinking buddy, you can add him to both aspects. Then each time you post a picture or make a status update you can decide which aspects you want to see that specific piece of information. The best part is that other contacts can’t see the way you manage your aspects and no one knows which aspect group they have been placed in.

Ownership via Open Source Pods

Everything you upload to your Facebook page becomes the property of Facebook because the network operates on a centralized network called a cloud computing service that stores all user data. So eventually your thoughts, opinions, pictures, videos, even the funny jokes between you and friends, are all owned by the network.

Diaspora allows each user to retain the rights to any and all information or media shared; it does not own anything you  disseminate via its network. When the concept was initially announced, the developers envisioned that the open source code for the network would be given out for free and that each user would then host his or her pod, or server. This means that each user’s information and private data, or seed in Diaspora-speak, would reside in his or her own pod, Diaspora developers are building a system and hub that allows each pod to interact and communicate with others; nothing like this has ever been done before.

Of course, for those who think this is complicated, but are still concerned about their privacy, they can use the aforementioned link to sign up and still get the same results and their own seed without hosting their own pod through open source.  Their seed would simply be a part of the main Diaspora pod.

Simplicity and Keeping it Clean

Diaspora prides itself on maintaining a system that is incredibly simple and easy to use – which it is. Unlike Facebook, once you sign up, there are no complicated boxes to click or hidden pages to find that will help you establish your privacy settings; they are already there. Plus, simple is good for digesting information and status’ from your contacts (unlike Facebook and Twitter which bombard users with a high influx of real-time information).

There are many reviews, however, that believe that it is too soon to tell. For example, Ryan Paul’s writeup in Ars Technica asserts that simple might mean too many limitations on the types of interaction that can be done on the site. In such a setup, privacy automatically becomes less important as there is no one there to share and interact with.

The verdict so far: Diaspora needs more time to mature. As more users gain access to the site and the developers continue to expand the features of Diaspora to make it more robust, the time will come to see if this privacy-oriented network, dubbed the “Facebook killer,” can get the job done.

Do you plan on using Diaspora? What do you think of the idea? Is there hope for this network and does it answer your privacy concerns?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.

1 Response

  1. November 4, 2011

    […] Perez of TechCrunch has said that Unthink is Disapora done right.  But it is too soon to tell as Unthink it only in its second week of infancy. But if […]

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