How to Lose a Social Network in 10 Days

It's not like Facebook knows everything about you, does it?

Feature by Alex Cole | 23 Jun 2010

It all started off so innocently, a flirtation. You gave it your name, maybe your email, and figured you’d leave it at that. But then you actually started having fun. You planned events together, added people to your little circle of friends, and before you knew it you were sharing everything: where you work, what movies you like, where you went to school and even the fact that you secretly want to stab slow walkers in front of you on the street. It was supposed to be private, just you and your mates.

But Facebook was cheating on you. With other companies. And it told them everything.

Last month Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg landed in a world of digital hot water after it was revealed that not only did he call the first users of Facebook “fucking idiots” for trusting him with their information, but that he had shared massive amounts of supposedly private data with ad agencies and other companies. That meant that what users liked, what they did, and even their opinions on religion, politics, and movies, information that users expected was kept only in their circle of friends, was in the hands of evil corporations who would use it to target their ads. In many cases, that data was available to anyone who searched for you, friend or no.

In an awkward and sweaty interview at a technology conference, Zuckerberg pointed to his company’s revised privacy settings that made hiding your data simpler, but it looked more like a defensive 20-something trying to bluff his way out of a shitstorm than a CEO.

The tepid response is what led a group of New York University geeks to begin developing Diaspora*, intended to be an open-source response version of Facebook big on privacy and low on evil corporations. As one of the founders explains, “the value [Facebook] gives us is negligible in the scale of what they are doing, and what we are giving up is all of our privacy.” They mean to beat Facebook at its own game by doing social networking simpler, better, and cheaper, and hopefully dropping Farmville as well.

Diaspora* will go live any day now, and there is already rabid interest in being among the first to finally break up with Facebook. While the site will be hard-pressed to completely unseat Big Blue, similar things were once said about MySpace and Bebo. These days, they’re the kind of sites who’re left in the corner of the pub, with users wondering what they ever saw in them.