Will Sgrouples end social networking’s attack on privacy?

Will Sgrouples end social networking’s attack on privacy?

Summary: Nearly 15 years after founding SuperGroups.com, Mark Weinstein is back with Sgrouples and says it’s time privacy becomes the hallmark of social networking.

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TOPICS: Privacy
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scru·ple \ noun \ˈskrü-pəl\ A feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action

 The name of an emerging social networking site says it all  - Sgrouples.

“I am greatly offended by the notion that privacy is dead,” says Mark Weinstein, founder and CEO of Sgrouples. The social sharing site, which is in live beta, is all about privacy.

Weinstein posts on the homepage a link to his Privacy Bill of Rights, a list of 10 credos including policies on sharing, control, and ownership. The list also includes a “no ads” option to a strategy that lets users go looking for advertisers, not the other way around.

The site also supports Do Not Track.

“There is no cookie,”  says Weinstein.  “Your personal information is private. We don’t track, we don’t profile, what you do is not discoverable by a search engine. We are not going to suggest who your friends are, we are not going to use facial recognition. You own your content, you can delete your account.”

Weinstein won’t say how many users are on the site now, but he calls his subscriber list “healthy and growing at 10% to 15% per week.”

His attitude is that users of sites such as Facebook and Google+ are growing fatigued with the amount of personal data that leaks out the back door and then comes back around in the form of advertising or other targeted offers, bites them in the butt on a job interview or invites stalkers into their worlds.

Weinstein says his mission is to ensure Sgrouples doesn’t have the same leakage problem.

But talk is cheap. Facebook has famously defended its privacy policies and Google has long professed “Do No Evil.”

“Google said ‘Do No Evil’ but they did not define it. I don’t know what that means,” says Weinstein, who founded the sharing and relationship site SuperGroups.com in 1998 before seeing it shuttered in 2001 by a hedge fund investor.

He says the site was before its time, and its leadership team has now regrouped with Sgrouples.

“Our [SuperGroups] investors called me the preacher. I preached about how valuable the web was for being social privately,” he says.

Sgrouples is for connecting and sharing with people you know in the real world. “I don’t have thousands of friends. I communicate with people I know and people I interact with," he says.

Weinstein thinks the social sharing industry got off on the wrong foot. “People got caught up in these new waves of communication.”

Weinstein says reality is catching up. People are realizing the fallout of sharing pictures that might turn off an employer, rants that stay around long after the angst is gone, content that is produced but not owned, and privacy policies that change with new ad models or after each Federal Trade Commission violation.

“We have a clause in our privacy policy that says if anything changes we send an email and give you a delete link so you can get out,” says Weinstein. “You are in control of who sees what information about you. You are in control of your content. You choose who sees it.”

The company has filed a patent application on its whole service including its permission model.

Weinstein says of his business model, “we are the Whole Foods of our industry. We don’t have to serve our people high fructose corn syrup.” He understands the phrase “if you’re not paying, you are the product.”

The company has a storage model called MyCloud. Users are charged after they surpass 4GB. There is also an application store.

“We have a framework where app developeres contribute to us. Like Apple, we will curate the code and the third-party developers don’t get access to our API.”

Sgrouples does have an ad model that lets users pick between interacting with advertisers they select or having no ads at all. The Sgrouples ad model is also included in its patent application.

Weinstein’s concept of users maintaining a level of control in relationships with vendors is similar to one laid out in the Project VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) work being led by Doc Searls at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

Weinstein says he thinks social networking fatigue will set in on a critical mass of users in the latter part of this year. “Privacy is a problem everyone is talking about, but nobody understands the solution."

Weinstein professes a passion for the right to privacy and he is committed to doing the right thing. “We are proving that people just don’t want to talk about privacy, they want privacy.”

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Topic: Privacy

About

John Fontana is a journalist focusing on authentication, identity, privacy and security issues. Currently, he is the Identity Evangelist for strong authentication vendor Yubico, where he also blogs about industry issues and standards work, including the FIDO Alliance.

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9 comments
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  • Nice rhetoric, but

    Social Networking is the opposite of privacy. Social Networking opens up people's information to the entire world. And most of the people using it don't really care, unless they get their identity stolen. Frankly, even before SN came along privacy no longer existed. I could get all information on someone with a simple phone call, or in some cases going through the right web sites. The government has had all of our information for decades. Corporations have had it almost as long. And they will give it out to anyone who pays them. In the modern world, privacy does not exist. You just have to learn to live with it, unless you want to a) drop off the grid (cash only, no electronic transactions, fake I.D.) or b) move to another planet.
    Unusual1
    • Social Privacy

      Hi Unusual, thanks for the comment. We honestly appreciate it when people bring issues like this up, they’re important ones that are worth talking about.

      You’re right, most social networking is not a very private experience, but Sgrouples isn’t most social networking. When you’re in Sgrouples you’re not searchable, you’re not trackable, and we’ll never scrape your data for our own uses. Our Privacy Bill of Rights is truly cutting-edge, the site is built with privacy in mind end to end. So when you’re in Sgrouples your information isn’t open to the entire world the way it is on some other platforms.

      We feel that people are becoming increasingly concerned about the erosion of personal privacy in the modern world, and are looking for alternatives to the status quo. We believe that there more options available to people than either learning to live with constant infringements on personal privacy or dropping off the grid altogether, and have strived to create a social networking experience that both protects our users and provides them with an incredible array of services.
      Sgrouples
  • This has been tried before...

    Most people that use SN (i.e. Facebook) do not care enough (or understand the issues) about online privacy to switch services. Even if they do, the problem is they have to convince all of their SN "friends" to come along with them. That in itself is a big challenge...even if the "secure, private" service is free.

    We launched ThreadThat.com over 3 years ago. The site is cost-free and ad-free. Users only need an email address to get an account. No personal info is collected (and therefore cannot be shared or stolen). Every message and file shared is encrypted end-to-end. To maximize privacy, users can control the pass phrases used to encrypt their data. There are many optional security features. And on and on. BUT, how to get people to switch? That is the big challenge. We have thus far been unsuccessful. I wish Mark and his team lots of luck. They'll need it.
    Matt S., Owner, ThreadThat.com
    MrPrivacy
  • Public Service

    Gadfly and Sgrouples, thanks for the nods. ThreadThat was developed with high hopes for a significant adoption rate. It became clear early on that the challenge required significant marketing dollars, which we lacked. I continue to support the site, which is hosted in a world class hosting center in Dallas, as a public service. I believe that everyone in the world should have a place they can go to easily share encrypted communications for free. It is unlikely that the site will ever gain significant traction.
    MrPrivacy
  • Socializing is the opposite of privacy

    You can either talk to people or you can live like a hermit in a bunker somewhere and have all of your secretes with no one to share it with.
    T1Oracle
    • Alternatives

      Hi T1, we'd like to think it's possible to take control of your social experience without resorting to a bunker!
      Sgrouples
  • That's right T1Oracle

    Thanks for making it all so clear - there are exactly to states of privacy: totally private and totally pubic.

    Why waste time with subtle in between states as that makes things just to dang complicated to think about.
    mars@...
  • already been done

    Diaspora had a better name and marketing, and even they can't get off the ground. I applaud your efforts, but I think you're reinventing the wheel.
    puesnada
  • Can not do it alone

    I'm afraid all or most of these alternative social networks will fail if they try to compete in the exact same way as the giants are, that is by doing it alone.

    We must develop a Free and open standard protocol, or chose one of the existing, for exchanging information, follow people and communicating between different servers and social networks, so that we can all start collaborating against the mastodonts, instead of working against each other. That is: we need federation.

    I've written about the importance of this, and how to do it. I hope the Sgrouples developers will read it.

    http://blogg.forteller.net/2011/think-internet/
    forteller