‘Privacy-Aware’ Diaspora To Challenge Facebook

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Diaspora – a “privacy-aware” social network – is preparing to challenge Facebook, as Zuckerberg faces privacy criticisms at D8

Four “talented young nerds” from New York University’s Courant Institute have managed to raise more than $200,000 (£136,000) to build an open source, privacy-conscious social network, as an alternative to Facebook.

The project known as Diaspora, plans to build a site which is “privacy-aware” and “personally-controlled”. The students originally gave themselves 39 days to raise a target budget of $10,000, using the the creative project funding site Kickstarter.

However, following an article in the New York Times last month, small contributions began pouring in and, in less than a month, more than 6,400 donations had been pledged.

“The sheer number of current supporters is unprecedented on Kickstarter, and we are thankful for every last backer,” the team wrote on their blog on 31 May. “Together, we have struck a chord with the world and identified a problem which needs to be solved.”

Handing over privacy controls

Over the summer, the team plans to write the software for the social network, which will give each individual control over their own data. The students are also planning a “turnkey” service that will do a lot of the background technical work for users, according to BBC News.

“You may not hear too much from us in the coming months and we will try our best to provide regular updates, but our silence means we are hard at work,” their blog stated.

The news comes as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is immersed in a privacy controversy that threatens to seriously damage the company’s reputation. Last month Zuckerberg was forced to admit that he had made a mistake in declaring that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.

Then, in the face of a user backlash, Facebook drastically simplifed its privacy settings to make it easier for users to govern how their information is shared on the social network. “By giving users powerful new tools to further protect their privacy, Facebook has employed a potent weapon to deal with marketplace apprehensions: self-regulation,” said Berin Szoka of the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

Zuckerberg defends privacy

Zuckerberg also seemed confident that the changes had been a success at the D8 conference in Los Angeles, claiming that, on the whole, the company has got its privacy settings right.

“I started building this when I was around 19 years old, and along the way, a lot of stuff changed. We went from building a service in a dorm room to running a service that 500 million people use,” said Zuckerberg. “There have been misperceptions that we are trying to make all information open. That’s completely false.”

He also said that he had no intention of taking the company public and speculated that its biggest competition is likely to come from “someone we haven’t heard of”.

Facebook is estimated to have more than 100 million users in the United States alone, and more than 350 million users worldwide. Despite widespread criticism of its attitude to privacy, a campaign to “quit Facebook” on 31 May was a flop

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