Will Sgrouples end social networking’s attack on privacy?

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.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

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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