Like many people I as shocked by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal that emerged recently. I always thought I was very IT security conscious. I have since found out what data they had on me and I was amazed. I truly was. I thought I had locked things quite well. This reminded me of a joke doing the rounds at the time of the Facebook IPO:
Q: Why have Facebook gone public?
A: They couldn’t work out the privacy settings either!!!!
Many readers will know that I like playing around with web based software and know that I have written often on this subject here. One of my favourite places to find new things to try (Link) has a section dedicated to social networking and media here (Link).
So based on this. I decided to see if if I could set up my own rival to Facebook! I started by running up an instance of Hubzilla.
This was the easy bit. Configuring the software was not too bad either, however what later such as terms and conditions, GDPR and more turned this project or experiment into a bit of a minefield. Many readers who know about my retirement will say that I have plenty of time on my hands these days. I do not have that much time believe me! My cardiology doctors would probably suggest I do not need the stress either.
The next thing would be actually getting my followers on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and others to join this network. I suggest many would not. Not at the moment anyway. OK I could set my own rules and stop certain friends of mine who are Spurs fans from posting anti-Arsenal propaganda! However, at the moment that is not enough to extend what has become a feeble attempt to develop something even half serious as a proof of concept into something more serious.
I enjoyed the time I spent setting up the software and playing around with Hubzilla. In spite of what I have sad above this part was enjoyable and it was easier to set up than some software I have tried to deploy to my web server over the years. I had less detailed looks at some of the other contenders and deployed some to test before going with Hubzilla. I thought it was the best of the bunch.
I have left the software deployed and it is here if you desperately feel the need to take a look.
I do have to take my hat off to the developers of Hubzilla. I like the software and to the most part I liked the setup and configuration parts. I wish them good luck for the future. Their software and software like this (there are several competitors, contenders and pretenders) makes a compelling case for smaller groups to move things on from the various scandals and issues that have blighted the likes of Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other providers of user generated content since long before the famous case (to us old timers, the youngsters in the business have barely heard of it!) of Godfrey vs Demon Internet. Smaller social networks that are more dynamic, forward thinking and more adept to quick change with the ability to tackle problems such as data breaches swiftly could indeed have a place. Maybe sooner rather than later.
So could a DIY social network prevent the types of scandals such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?
In my opinion yes and no. I found that setting up a network like this from scratch would be a massive task and operation so it is probably not for the individual unless they have a lot of time on their hands. A small motivated group, however could potentially have much more success in this field. I can highly commend Hubzilla if anyone wants a try at this task.