Cyber-security expert launches privacy-friendly alternative to Facebook

With the various scandals that have engulfed Facebook in recent months, there has been a consistent call for consumers to be provided with a viable, privacy-conscious alternative to the data-slurping social media behemoth.

Now it seems that such an alternative may be in the offing as Privacy campaigners themselves are crowdfunding to launch a new rival site, notionally called OpenBook.

What is OpenBook all about?

The attractions of the new site are clear. Its manifesto states that it wants to enable people to connect and ‘watch funny cat videos’ without having to put their privacy at risk to do so. It promises to be tracking and advertising-free and also commits to giving 30% of its revenues to charity.

The site has been founded by Joel Hernandez, a cyber-security engineer who claims to have been planning to launch a privacy-friendly Facebook alternative since long before the biggest scandal to hit Facebook earlier this year.

That saw it leaking details of 87 million users accounts to Cambridge Analytica, a political data company rumoured to have been influential in both the US Presidential election and Britain’s Brexit referendum.

The fallout for Facebook once that story broke has been immense, but despite this, they still boast an enormous 2.2 billion active monthly users. That makes taking on one of the most powerful tech companies in the world a sizable challenge. So, how does OpenBook propose to do it?

How will OpenBook take on Facebook?

Firstly, they plan to take full advantage of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which recently came into force. This empowers EU citizens to transfer their data from existing social media sites to new ones if they so choose. OpenBook hopes to tempt many to do just that.

They also aim to be less addictive than Facebook too. They hope to do this by reducing the number of notifications on offer from their apps. However, since many notifications are user-generated, how effective this will prove to be remains to be seen.

The privacy credentials OpenBook are offering are fairly impressive too. Not only is their founder a cyber-security engineer himself, but he has also secured the endorsement of a number of other reputable names in the sector.

They include Philip Zimmermann, the man who created the world’s most popular email encryption software, PGP, and Jaya Baloo, who is the Chief Information Security Officer at Dutch telecoms company KPN Telecom. Both will be involved in the development of OpenBook.

Hernandez is also intending the site to be entirely open source, meaning that any well-meaning web developers can take a look at their coding to ensure that are keeping to their privacy promises.

How is OpenBook going to be funded?

If OpenBook does not plan to use advertising, how is it going to fund itself? In the long-term, it plans to generate funds by launching a marketplace and taking a commission on the transactions which are carried out there. But that will only be viable if people sign up in sufficient numbers.

So, for now, they are looking for investment and, like so many tech start-ups, they have turned to crowdfunding in the first instance.

Their campaign is up now on Kickstarter. This round of funding is seeking to raise a relatively modest total of just over US$100,000. You can contribute today for as little as US$1, but there are some great incentives available to invest more.

Even if you don’t fancy donating to their Kickstarter, OpenBook is a project well worth keeping an eye on.

While Facebook use continues to grow, particularly in the developing world, there is growing discontent among many users about the way their data is used by the company. The recent scandals did see a wave of people leaving the site, and it seems highly likely that more would have left if a more palatable alternative were available.

OpenBook is aiming offer just such an alternative and their entry into the market looks to be a timely one. Internet users are becoming more and more privacy-conscious, as illustrated by the growing take-up of VPNs around the world.

Social media is an increasingly vital tool for communication and the prospect of a genuinely privacy-friendly site will be attractive to a great many internet users.

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