Diaspora: An antidote for your Facebook privacy problems

If you’re concerned about data security on Facebook, consider trying out an open-source alternative like Diaspora.

Our social networks say a lot about us. When you register with a Website like Facebook, you voluntarily give up personal information like your name, photo, and phone number in exchange for the privilege of access to a network that makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family. Facebook then makes money aggregating that information for sale to advertisers looking to target groups of potential customers with specific ages and interests. It’s an information economy, and to be clear, Facebook cleaves to a privacy policy that only permits the sharing of “non-personally identifiable attributes” with advertisers.

The problem is that it’s up to the folks at Facebook to decide what connotes “non-personally identifiable attributes.” We’ve written at length about the problems with Facebook’s protean privacy policies, and the company has done an admirable job of addressing user privacy concerns by offering users the option to disable troublesome features like “Instant Personalization,” which allows third-party websites like Huffington Post and Pandora to access your Facebook data in order to customize their services with ads you might click on.

Of course you never retain complete control over the data you post; Facebook reserves the right to use your name and image to promote any product or service you endorse, which means that your Facebook friends are likely already seeing ads for the latest summer blockbuster with your face attached. Worse, if you use the GPS function on your phone to check in at the local REI outlet and REI has paid for a Facebook Sponsored Story ad campaign, your name and the details of your check-in may appear without your knowledge as an ad promoting the REI brand to your friends and family.

“Facebook has a history of privacy problems,” writes Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School who specializes in online business. “New features introduced without a full assessment of privacy consequences; settings changes that reduce users’ privacy unexpectedly; transmission and sharing of data contrary to Facebook’s promises to users. In this context, users rightly look for alternatives.”

Diaspora is open-source software that duplicates the functions of a social network like Facebook while ensuring that users retain full control and ownership of everything they share on the network; instead of first uploading photos to Facebook and then choosing who gets to see them, Diaspora users can simply share photos directly with each other without having to go through a corporate middleman or agree to a company privacy policy.

There is no central Diaspora network or Website; since the Diaspora code is freely available online, anyone with a server handy can host a Diaspora server that you can join. The software is still in development, but an alpha version is already available and several Diaspora servers are already operational. These servers (known as “pods”) allow registered users to store data (like mail and photos) and maintain their own personal profile. Every pod is different: Some are invite-only, some have space limits, and some are more secure than others. You can even host your own Diaspora pod to retain absolute control of your online identity. It’s like living in your own private Idaho (on the Internet.)

Sound lonely? Invite friends and family to register a Diaspora account on whichever pod suits their fancy; you can then share as much or as little as you like with each other, even if everyone is on different pods. If Facebook is like one big desert island, Diaspora is an entire archipelago, a chain of private islands linked with bridges built and controlled by the users. If you’re concerned about trusting Facebook with your private data, an open-source alternative like Diaspora might be worth a look.

Alex Wawro has a complicated relationship with Facebook. Find him on Twitter @awawro or on Diaspora (awawro@diasp.org.)

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Pandoraonline privacysecuritysocial networksFacebook

More about FacebookHarvard Business School

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Alex Wawro

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place