Over the past few days, there has been public outrage over the way Facebook is handling personal data. This was brought to light by the recent scandal with Cambridge Analytica, but really should come as no surprise, as Facebook has been treating its users this way since it launched back in 2004.
Minds takes a much different approach. Since our launch, everything we have built has been with you, the community, at the forefront. Our goal is to create a social network that puts control back into your hands.
The story that broke over the past few days is really just a piece of a much larger issue with Facebook and how they handle personal data. To summarize, a developer named Aleksandr Kogan developed an application in 2014 offering a personality quiz to Facebook users. About 270,000 users took the quiz, but in doing so they granted Kogan’s app access to not only their Facebook data, but the data of ALL of their Facebook friends as well -- meaning the app now had data on 50 million users. Kogan then provided this data to Cambridge Analytica, who used it to create over 30 million psychographic profiles about potential voters.
1) Data Policy
Up until 2014, Facebook’s policy allowed for any application developer to ask permission from Facebook users to access their data. However, it also allowed the apps to collect that same data about ALL of that user’s friends on Facebook, without consent. Facebook changed this policy in 2014 to ensure that apps could not collect data on user’s friends, but at that point, the damage had been done.
In Zuckerberg's recent statement addressing the situation, he claimed,
We will investigate all apps that had access to large information before we changed our platform to dramatically reduce data access in 2014, and we will conduct a full audit of any app with suspicious activity.
This is the right step to take, and one they have to take, but this is also something they knowingly avoided for years. In a New York Times op-ed from last November, an ex-Facebook employee from their privacy team stated,
At a company that was deeply concerned about protecting its users, this situation would have been met with a robust effort to cut off developers who were making questionable use of data. But when I was at Facebook, the typical reaction I recall looked like this: try to put any negative press coverage to bed as quickly as possible, with no sincere efforts to put safeguards in place or to identify and stop abusive developers. When I proposed a deeper audit of developers’ use of Facebook’s data, one executive asked me, “Do you really want to see what you’ll find?"
Zuckerberg also stated that they will be implementing a new tool at the top of the newsfeed that allows users to revoke the permissions that users have provided to apps in the past. While this will help users know who has their data, it is still just another proprietary software tool to further deceive the community into thinking they have any sort of privacy. It is damage control, and not a long-term solution by any means. It doesn’t account for any data privacy in connection with government surveillance or surveillance of users/employees by Facebook themselves, which is also a critical piece of the puzzle.
2) Data Collection
The crux of the issue lies in the data that Facebook requires from new users in the first place. You are forced to provide your first name, last name, email or phone number, birthday and gender. The reason is simple - this information is a marketer’s targeting dream, or Stalin's dream, as free software movement founder Richard Stallman puts it, and also the key to Facebook’s revenue and entire business model. Zuckerberg clearly realizes this is one of the main areas of concern, as he just stated recently that they are going to reduce the information required upon signup to just name, profile photo and email address. A step in the right direction assuredly, but still not any type of real solution. They still control and require the data.
It is hard to blame Facebook for this alone because when you sign up, you are agreeing to provide them with this personal information, so there is the level of consent. However, Facebook deceives their users into thinking their information is “private” by providing layers of permissions and privacy settings. If users were more aware about how much of their personal data was actually public (or being shared with intelligence agencies), they would be much more reserved in giving it away. Personal data is not private unless you yourself have control.
Facebook has the control, not you, and Zuckerberg has known this since the beginning. Obviously he has attempted to apologize for the below comments, but he has demonstrated no tangible actions to actually address the public concern and provide a real solution.
Minds and Facebook are fundamentally different with regards to user privacy.
1) Minds allows users to be 100% anonymous, untracked and free from spying
Users are encouraged to maintain anonymity, and we do not collect information that could be harvested for psychographic purposes. Emails are not even required, so any content or activity on the site cannot be traced to an identifiable person unless they have chosen to provide that personal data themselves. This is a crucial factor because it gives users control of what personal data they wish to provide, rather than the other way around.
2) We maintain zero-knowledge of the content of user conversations in encrypted messenger
This is essential in ensuring that users can chat freely with each other without the concern that the conversation is being monitored. The zero knowledge proof also holds true for users who choose to remain anonymous, as we do not have any personal data linked to their account. Any other sensitive data is encrypted and original content is owned by the user.
3) Our software is 100% free and open source for public accountability and inspection
Unlike top proprietary social networks, you can actually look at our entire code base at either https://minds.org or https://github.com/minds. You are encouraged to inspect our code and even help contribute and build the network. This provides much needed community ownership and transparency into what our platform is actually doing, as opposed to simply taking our word for it.
This debate exposes the paradox between transparency and privacy, both of which are core principles of Minds, like Wikipedia and other Internet freedom pioneers. For example, we have a clear distinction between private information (encrypted messages, emails) and public information (your posts, etc). You own your content, and simultaneously, the actions on the site like votes and shares, are public knowledge. Facebook has gotten themselves into a deadly trap by pretending they are giving people privacy with layered permissions levels and supposed ‘privacy’ settings while also exposing massive amounts of data without consent. They require personal data and are handing it over to the highest bidders. The user has lost control.
Minds gives that control back to the people. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.