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GNU is Not Unix Privacy Social Networks News

Free Software To Save Us From Social Networks 249

Glyn Moody writes "Here's a problem for free software: most social networks are built using it, yet through their constant monitoring of users they do little to promote freedom. Eben Moglen, General Counsel of the Free Software Foundation for 13 years, and the legal brains behind several versions of the GNU GPL, thinks that the free software world needs to fix this with a major new hardware+software project. 'The most attractive hardware is the ultra-small, ARM-based, plug it into the wall, wall-wart server. [Such] an object can be sold to people at a very low one-time price, and brought home and plugged into an electrical outlet and plugged into a wall jack for the Ethernet, and you're done. It comes up, it gets configured through your Web browser on whatever machine you want to have in the apartment with it, and it goes and fetches all your social networking data from all the social networking applications, closing all your accounts. It backs itself up in an encrypted way to your friends' plugs, so that everybody is secure in the way that would be best for them, by having their friends holding the secure version of their data.' Could such a plan work, or is it simply too late to get people to give up their Facebook accounts for something that gives them more freedom?"
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Free Software To Save Us From Social Networks

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:23PM (#31543136)

    ....and suggest that most people don't care.

  • Uhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:24PM (#31543146) Journal

    You mean people would actually have to SPEND MONEY? And even worse, on an actual PHYSICAL OBJECT? No way, not in a million years would something like this replace a simple, free online service.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by snarfies ( 115214 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:25PM (#31543162) Homepage

    Seriously, its a dumb plan. My girlfriend is on Facebook, and I'm pretty sure she would have the following objections:

    1) New people couldn't find her.
    2) This new plan is already WAY too complicated. She can't point a browser at some weird piece of hardware that she has to install herself, no matter how "easy" it is to install or point to.
    3) She can't play with her facebook farm(s).

  • by pwnies ( 1034518 ) <j@jjcm.org> on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:26PM (#31543188) Homepage Journal
    Remember that facebook is now the #1 site when it comes to traffic. You aren't going to get it's 500 million or so users to migrate to a self configurable system simply in the name of privacy. What percentage of the users on facebook actually care? On quarter of one percent? Even that would be a stretch. People aren't going to leave their hard earned farmville accounts because facebook is using their personal data to market to them. It's not a concern in this day and age.
  • "freedom" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sub Zero 992 ( 947972 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:29PM (#31543246) Homepage

    I am getting pretty tired of other people telling me what freedom should mean to me.

    What freedom means to me, what I am frightened of and / or prepared to sacrifice is not a temporally static concept. 10 years ago I wouldn't even publish my mail address online. Now I have my entire cv on xing. These are rational decisions I made according to costs I perceive (correctly or not) with publishing personal information, or not.

    Sure, some people make poor choices about publishing personal information (sexting, anyone?). But some times openness is an indicator for a "safe" society.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Free vs Free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thyamine ( 531612 ) <thyamine@ofdragons.ELIOTcom minus poet> on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:29PM (#31543250) Homepage Journal
    Let's just go with how the conversation with any non-geek person/friend/spouse/family member would both start and end: Wait, Facebook already is free. I don't get it.
  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:30PM (#31543256)
    Who the hell would use this? How many people are really that desperate to escape social networks? People who REALLY didn't want them would never have signed up in the first place. People who used to like them and don't anymore, can just spend a couple hours tracking it all down. Mightn't people who use this want to customize its exact effects? Isn't the easiest way to do that...to just close your accounts yourself?

    This sounds like something a sixth-grader would come up with...
  • Doesn't make sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by guspasho ( 941623 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:30PM (#31543268)

    The problem is free software is used to voluntarily erode privacy rights.

    Not anymore! Now we have a server that looks like a night-light, just plug it in and it will do all your social networking for you! It's magic! No longer will you have to give up your privacy rights! ...

    Do I have the argument right?

  • Freedom? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Glendale2x ( 210533 ) <slashdot@ninjamonkYEATSey.us minus poet> on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:30PM (#31543280) Homepage

    Could such a plan work, or is it simply too late to get people to give up their Facebook accounts for something that gives them more freedom?

    This plan assumes that your average Facebook user wants freedom and/or privacy.

  • Too late (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigSlowTarget ( 325940 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:31PM (#31543282) Journal

    The network effect has already kicked in. If you want to replace Facebook it will have to be with a product that offers more value on an individual user basis AND can interface with Facebook so users will have access to those social networks as well as access to the additional functionality. If you start there you can wean people off of the older application. While the approach you describe may give users more freedom from corporate/government/whoever control it gives them less freedom to do the activities they now do on the social networking site.

  • Not only do most users not care- but the few who do aren't going to want an either-or system that blocks out their friends who are less technically adept.

    " and it goes and fetches all your social networking data from all the social networking applications, closing all your accounts."

    Is not a reasonable way to go about it.

    Replace that line with "and it goes and fetches all your social networking data from all the social networking applications, and syncs it daily, giving you an always-on local server *combining* updates from several social networking sites" and I'd consider paying up to $500 for such a device.

  • Re:Uhh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jazz-Masta ( 240659 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:32PM (#31543308)

    If only we already had devices that we could hook up to a wall socket, plug into an ethernet port, and configure with a web browser...

    If only we could invent some sort of encrypted storage area for our social networking information...

    If only we could adapt these useless boxes...the ones we have hundreds of millions of already, to do the same thing. What are they called? Computers? Hah! They aren't powerful enough to do what the OP is talking. No way.

    Oh well, we can dream, one day.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:33PM (#31543322) Homepage

    So what is this "your data" that he wants to fetch? I don't think most people are aware of having any "data" on social networks. Their favorite bands, their favorite movies... that's not "data," it's information about themselves that they post to social networks because they want other people to know it.

    The problem with commercial social networks is their interpretation of what "your data" is. The stuff they're interested in has less to do with whether you say you like Blink 182 and more to do with who all your friends are, how often you communicate with them, what keywords show up most often in your posts, what groups you join and who else is in them, and all that other stuff that can be data-mined. In other words, it's the record of your social interactions that's the "data" -- so why would you want to preserve that in a brand-new network?

  • by Luke has no name ( 1423139 ) <foxNO@SPAMcyberfoxfire.com> on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:33PM (#31543324)

    I have pondered the idea of a decentralized Social networking protocol, similar to email/Jabber/etc. Standard IM protocols along with standard (XML based?) data formatting for social information would be used to allow socialnetworking servers to talk to each other, and find friends.

    The issue is that SOME sort of centralization is probably best for this kind of online interaction; the question is to what extent your secure content is hosted and in your own control.

    Best option: Don't put private shit in a public place.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bri3D ( 584578 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:35PM (#31543370) Journal

    This just doesn't make any sense. People who are using a social network are using a social network because they want to be found - because they want an easy way to keep in touch with a lot of people. Changing to a darknet model completely eliminates all these benefits. The only people who would buy such a device are people who shouldn't using online social networks anyway (making the import aspect odd).

  • by skids ( 119237 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:51PM (#31543594) Homepage

    Gah posting off the top of my head there and skipped over the topicality which is this:

    These people need to focus on building popular projects that aren't purist, but which develop the building blocks for a system much like what they are describing. Facebook got people started on building trust networks, for a lax definition of the term. The next step is something like that, which is cross-site, has minimal centralized services, and allows the "backup-encrypted-to-a-friends system" aspect. Trust lists are small enough to make that acheivable as a peer-to-peer application in a browser plugin, which is why I suggested it. Then comes spoof protection (did X actually post this?) which gets people into digital signatures.

    It has to be candy coated to get people to care.

  • by spazdor ( 902907 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:52PM (#31543618)

    More than that, they are endeavouring specifically against their online privacy.

    Grandparent comment said "still haven't figured out the point, if there is one", and you have indirectly advanced it.

    Facebook exists for the express purpose of escaping anonymity and privacy. That is just what personal publishing is.

  • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:55PM (#31543672) Homepage

    Here's a problem for free software: most social networks are built using it, yet through their constant monitoring of users they do little to promote freedom.

    So, the people at facebook "constantly monitor users" and "do little to promote freedom"? And we wonder why the FSF is written off as a fringe organization?

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:59PM (#31543702)

    Speaking as one who uses Free rather than Open Source to characterize software, and admires Richard Stallman....

    Why does every piece of software on the planet need to promote freedom? Isn't it enough that a whole lot of it does? And why shouldn't I feel free to put selected information about myself in the public view? (Seriously, you're all welcome to whatever is on my Facebook account. There are things I don't want the whole world to know about, and they're not on FB. I trust FB to respect my privacy in much the same sense that I trust mousetraps to catch and restrain blue whales, but I don't have to put stuff on it.)

  • by LordKazan ( 558383 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:59PM (#31543708) Homepage Journal

    It isn't that they don't care about "online privacy", it is that they've joined a site specifically to share certain information. Any information they post on Facebook, etc is clearly information they're ok with Having in public.

    My profile on FB has a lot less information than most other peoples. Does that mean I don't care about my online privacy? no, I just don't care if people know that I like Belegarth MCS, and Dungeons and Dragons.

    Facebook is essentially public space, don't expect things you do in public spaces to be private. It's not that hard to figure out.

    As for GP not knowing what it's for: keeping in contact with people you might not necessarily see every day? Is it that hard to figure out?

    Caveat: I don't play facebook games, I don't install apps, etc. My FB profile is very minimal.

  • by Rene S. Hollan ( 1943 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:04PM (#31543750)

    Social networking sites are far more than "informatiuon about a few million people". Their value comes from the relationships between those people. This have value to the people themselves, and, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on where one lies on the marketting/privacy divide, to others. It's restricting this access to others and controlling information about one's self, that's the appeal of this device.

    However, maintaining all those relationships distributed across they myriad of individual servers in each home will prove problematic: one essentially has a distributed database. The first issues that come to mind are location services, mapping "friend" links to their wall-wart servers (yes, this is DNS, but do you want to be that visible?), as well as backups. The network traffic involved in simple "friend of friend" graphing starts to get significant.

    In such an environment Facebook would likely spider all the wall-wart servers in a Googlesque manner for (a) marketting, and (b) convenience.

    Still, it's a concept I've pondered for a while: I should control information about me, and who I share it with. Replication and backup becomes a separate problem: perhaps I want some storage service provider to host it... perhaps not: connections to port 25 at a server resolved from my domain name have terminated on a PC in my home for years: if my physical mailbox is outside my house, why should my electronic one not be inside (cursing static IP rental costs aside)?

    In this model, "Facebook" becomes an "app", that people download to their home servers and use to establish and publish relationships between their friends.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:07PM (#31543784) Homepage Journal

    It's called the World Wide Web. People hated it because it wasn't constrained and limited enough.

    I am totally serious. It's one of those things (actually a very common phenomenon) where putting constraints on something, opens peoples' eyes as to how it can be used, and makes it seem cooler. But then they forget that they can still do those same things, even without the limitations present. Life is weird.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:19PM (#31543960) Journal

    Well, I for one wouldn't have any use for that, because I'm not on facebook & co. anyway.

  • by akb ( 39826 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:31PM (#31544148)

    Free Software had first mover advantage over the big brother social network sites but it didn't innovate fast enough. Remember blogs? What happened? The community couldn't agree on standards for providing advanced social applications that people wanted, so the walled gardens sprang up that provided them. Seriously, remember the years of dumb ass bickering over RSS or Atom?

    I personally am very sad that large parts of the social experience online are now within wall gardens, I see it as AOL's revenge from the grave. It says something about the limits of open processes that hopefully the Free Software movement and others can learn from.

  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @05:46PM (#31544366)

    Because Stallman believes it is immoral to create software that doesn't live up to his definition of "free." He would like very much to stop everyone from doing so. In other words, Stallman would like to remove everyone's freedom to create software in ways and forms which he doesn't agree with.

  • by YourExperiment ( 1081089 ) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @11:05AM (#31549578)

    • Privacy: I do not like the fact my photographs are available and indexed by my own name.

    So register under a pseudonym. Worried that people will still tag you under your real name? They're probably doing that now, regardless of whether you have an account or not. It's people that are the problem, not Facebook.

    • Shallowness: The quality of communication on Facebook is poor. The most indepth conversation you can have is what someone is doing and what they have done. You are not promoted to have an intellectual debate (Read: Why the hell am I on Slashdot then?) I much prefer to use email although If my email clients were more like how you send messages to people on Facebook it would make me very happy.

    You prefer email, but you wish it was more like Facebook? Try Facebook messaging, it's like email but it's on Facebook. Seriously though, email doesn't promote intellectual debate, it just allows you to contact people. Just like messaging on Facebook does. I've had hugely inane discussions on email, and in-depth philosophical debates on Facebook messaging. Again, it's the person and not the medium.

    • Trendy: The people on Facebook for me are the wannabe trendy people. One or two years ago I tried to get my friends to join Multiply, it focused on contribution of blog postings, news, links, pictures and videos. It was difficult to get people to contribute things that were worthwhile.

    Blogs, news, links, pictures and videos? It sounds kinda like Facebook. Except of course that none of your friends were there, so when they joined up and none of their friends were there, the whole experience seemed rather pointless - compared to Facebook, where they could actually communicate with people. Once a site like Facebook hits critical mass in terms of user numbers, it's almost impossible to persuade people to move to a new site, even if it offers compelling new features.

    As for the remainder of your points, I'm mostly in agreement. I use Facebook because all of my friends are there, and there's no other way to conveniently keep up with them all. I find the service really useful. I'm certainly not happy about some of the ramifications in terms of privacy, but I do my best to exacerbate them, and the remainder is just a trade-off between security and convenience.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's