As Avira focuses on privacy and security issues, and social networks now play a major role in people’s lives, CNET journalist Laura Hautala caught my attention yesterday with her article “Non-creepy social networks make it to your smartphone” (CNET, 15 June 2015).
Partly in response to outrage (in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures) over government surveillance abuses and companies selling personal data from their customers to the highest bidders, a few companies are now attempting to disrupt the dominant paradigm – i.e. to provide private, encrypted alternatives to Facebook and other networks that the public perceives as being more concerned about profit than the privacy of their customers.
Meet the innovative Minds
Manhattan-based Minds, which has run an alternative social media website for two years, just launched a lightweight social-network app for mobile (for Android and iOS) that encrypts all communications – so they are secure and anonymous (able to be read only by the intended recipient). According to the company, Minds is the first social network with an encrypted app and it’s all based on open-source code to ensure that any attempts to read what shouldn’t be read will be transparent to developers.
According to Co-Founder and CEO Bill Ottman, the app launched this week with a two-year base of 30,000 people already using its social website. As Hautala points out, it’s not a number that will cause Facebook any pain (with its near 1.4 billion users), but the IT world can and often does change rapidly.
In addition to encryption of the data going through the app, Minds collects none of its customers’ data. So even if intelligence agencies demand users’ data, the company has nothing to give them.
As for earning revenue, Minds plans to give up traditional ad sales (which it has used on its website version) and instead offer ‘VIP services’ for points, which can be either purchased outright or earned free via interaction. Such services include being able to expand the reach of your content beyond your personal connections.
Others en route
With a focus on similar principles – namely, data privacy, anonymity, and seeing customers are more than just numbers – the Vermont-based social network Ello also plans to launch a mobile app for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. More will come.
While I have personally suggested to friends and colleagues that ‘privacy’ may have been a short-lived concept in human history (and is in fact already gone from our lives in the way our grandparents knew it), it seems that companies led by freedom-loving people continue to rise up against privacy’s seemingly increasing absence.
While writing this, I downloaded the iOS version of the Minds app myself. I’ll activate an account later today and, if I find it to be a promising social experience, maybe I’ll see you there.