The Diaspora project

One of the first things my 15-year-old daughter and many (most?) of her friends do in the morning is: log on to premiere American data mining company Fa$ebook.

And, if they want to find something, they ‘google’ it because they’ve been brainwashed into believing it’s the way to talk to each other online,  just as they believe Google is the only search game in town.

In short, both  giant US  online advertising companies have become indispensable to teens, and to millions of adults, in the 21st, digital, century.

In the first post on my new blog,  “I’m assuming many of you missed the marvelous piece of bumf crafted by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook – it was published by the Economist Group late last year, in The World In 2012″, said my wife, Liz,  going on:

“Well, Sandberg’s effusions about how “profiles will no longer be outlines, but detailed self-portraits of who we really are, including the books we read, the music we listen to… just didn’t ring true to me, after my recent experiences on Facebook, or Facebutt as Jon inadvertently called it. I was creating a personal profile in order to then be able to make a page for our Dad’s Westcoast Awesome Sauces, our truly awesome hot sauces.

“I’m certainly old enough to know what I like and how I like it and I found it very trying to express the little that I was willing to share while Facebook attempted to pigeon-hole my entries into it’s preset modules, which then enable it to conveniently resell you information.”

Hold that thought, and then move on to dystopia and diaspora.

The first means “An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror” or “A work describing such a place or state: ‘dystopias such as Brave New World’.‘


Not at all incidentally, it’s used by “Google’s Senior Policy Counsel Nicklas Lundblad and policy manager Betsy Masiello [who] published a paper called ‘Opt-in dystopias’ in SCRIPTed, a Journal of Law, Technology & Society”, the company says glibly on one of its PR puff pages.

Journal of Law, Technology & Society, huh? Guess that means we should take the ‘paper’ seriously.

In it, the duo “explore how forcing opt-ins for online data collection could have unintended consequences that are not beneficial for user privacy”.

‘Forcing’ opt-ins?

But according to Google, “Partially-informed opt-ins that ask for excessive data, for example, could actually be more harmful for users’ privacy than better-designed, more intuitive and granular opt outs”.

Nicklas and Betsy argue that focusing on the opt-in versus opt-out  “as a black-and-white matter” creates  “false choices” for users.

Instead, they  try to make the case that it’s better to have a structure in which online data collection is an ongoing negotiation between users and service providers.

What negotiation? It doesn’t exist.

And although Nicklas and Betsy don’t “focus on advertising”, their paper is “timely given recent industry discussions about data collection in the online advertising world.”

‘Public outrage’ would be a more accurate phrase than ‘industry discussions’.

Below are excerpts from the Google ‘paper’, trying to convince you that Black is White by using clap-trap such as >>>

Loosely, opt-in is intended as a proxy for gaining affirmative consent prior to the collection or use of information, while opt-out is thought of as a proxy for collecting information without gaining prior consent. We will find that this simplification glosses over important distinctions between the contexts of information collection, as well as critical subtle technical differences between the ways information can be collected.

And >>>

Opt-in is necessarily a partially informed decision because users lack experience with the service and value it provides until after opting-in. Potential costs of the opt-in decision loom larger than potential benefits, whereas potential benefits of the opt-out decision loom larger than potential costs.

And >>>

Under an opt-in regime, the provider has an incentive to exaggerate the scope of what he asks for, while under the opt-out regime the provider has an incentive to allow for feature-by-feature opt-out.

And >>>

If everyone requires opt-in to use services, users will be desensitised to the choice, resulting in automatic opt-in.

And >>>

The increase in switching costs presented by opt-in decisions is likely to lead to proliferation of walled gardens.

Google’s  and Facebook’s businesses are built on the premise that they get  untrammeled access to any, and all, data  scooped up from people who use one or other of its ‘services,’ as it calls its advertising products.

This is a  scam where Google (and others) glom onto peoples’ data by signing them up for things without permission and then claim people simply have to  ask to be ‘opted out’.

For instance, you may find yourself being used by Google in one of its products — its sneak view StreetView, as just one example — without ever having given your permission. You have to ask, cap in hand, to be taken off.
In other words, you have to ask to be removed without ever having opted in.
It looks ridiculous. And it is.

Diaspora means “A dispersion of a people from their original homeland”and/or “The community formed by such a people”, in other words, the open source answer to Fa$ebook.  And in May, 2010, the word was being used by four New York University Courant Institute students who were looking for $10K so they  could spend the summer “building Diaspora; an open source personal web server that will put individuals in control of their data”.

I say ‘wanted $10K’ because in May last year, Max Salzberg, Dan Grippi, Raphy Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy had  been promised not $10,000, but a whopping $129,906 by 3,490 people on KickStarter.

Now, “Connecting socially is human nature,” they say,  going on,  “You shouldn’t have to trade away your personal information to participate.”

So what is their Diaspora, exactly?

It’s a decentralised “open source distributed, do it all, privacy aware, social network” they say.

“We think people’s privacy and personal control is in jeopardy more than ever online, and every day we hear about more and more of our peers who say that Diaspora is something that they want and need”, they say on their web site.

You can follow the four on Twitter or Identica, and on Diaspora itself, of course :)”

Not only but also,  “Now you don’t have to settle for having your data on someone else’s server. Since Diaspora is completely free software, you can grab the code and host it wherever you want.*