Safer Alternatives to Facebook

We are presenting three social networks, Diaspora, MeWe and Minds, which protect users’ privacy to a far greater extent than Facebook does. Each one of them takes a completely different approach to achieving this goal.

Facebook-Alternativen (Icons by Smashicons, Freepik

Björn GreifEditor

In the aftermath of the data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, many users began to think about turning their back on Facebook and switching to another social network. But just where can they turn to find an alternative that is seriously committed to the topic of data protection? We present three social networks that largely share the values to which Cliqz is committed: protection of privacy, security and transparency. These three networks – Diaspora, MeWe and Minds – apply the golden rule of privacy: They will not collect personal data and sell this information for advertising purposes as Facebook and other major Internet companies do. Instead, the aim is to ensure the users themselves have the greatest-possible control over their own data.

Diaspora was launched in 2010 as a Kickstarter project. Since 2011, the open-source project has been supported by the Diaspora Foundation and refined by the community.Diaspora Logo It offers many of the same functions found on Facebook: Bulletin boards and chat windows enable both time-shifted and real-time communications. Through the use of personal groups (so-called “aspects”), users can make decisions about the type of information they want to share with others (e.g., family, colleagues, friends). Hashtags, mentions, reshares and likes facilitate interaction with other members. When users register, they also have the option of using a pseudonym rather than their real name.

Diaspora erlaubt das öffentliche und private Teilen von Inhalten (Bild: Diaspora Foundation).

The distinctive feature of Diaspora is its decentralized approach: Unlike Facebook, users do not store their data on the company’s central servers, but can rather set up personal local servers known as “pods.” As a result, they always have control over their data. Diaspora also offers public pods where anybody may open an account. However, caution must be exercised here, as hackers could misuse a public pod they control to tap into data.

Diaspora contains no advertising and is licensed under the GNU AGPLv3 licence. It has at least 660,000 members. A number of client apps are available for Android users, however, there is currently no app for iOS. Nonetheless, the developers recommend that members access Diaspora from their mobile device through a browser.

MeWe was launched in 2016 by a California start-up called Sgrouples. Its motto is: “No Ads. No Tracking. No BS.” Like Cliqz, this social network is based on the concept of privacy by design, which provides users with “built-in data protection” and complete control over their own information. Under the network’s Privacy Bill of Rights, personal data and all shared content will remain in the user’s possession. MeWe LogoAccording to MeWe, it does not use targeted advertising or manipulate news feeds. Furthermore, it never shares personal information with third parties or does not monitor or mine user data. With the help of various access and privacy options, users can control who may see their content and which data will be provided during member searches. MeWe also grants its users the right to delete their account at any time and to take their content with them. But MeWe’s software code is not open source and therefore cannot be checked by independent third parties.

MeWe gibt es als App für Android und iOS (Bild: MeWe).

Like Facebook, MeWe enables users to post and share content (including photos, videos, documents and voice messages) as well as chat with individuals or (private) groups. Users can store, organize and process content in their own personal cloud. MeWe uses a freemium model to finance its operations: The free standard suite of features includes the basic functions for sharing content and up to 8 Gigabyte of storage space, according to the company’s FAQ page. Users who want more storage capacity (a maximum of 500 Gigabyte) and functions (secret chat, custom emojis, photo printing, coupons and additional apps) must pay for them. MeWe’s registration rules require new users to provide their first and last name, date of birth, e-mail address or mobile number.

MeWe is available for desktop and as an app for Android and iOS. According to official sources, the company has more than 1.5 million users. You can find more information in MeWe’s Terms of Service and its Privacy Policy.

Minds was founded in 2012 and launched to the public in 2015. The service is being developed by Minds Foundation, Inc., based in New York City. Minds LogoIts software code is licenced under the open source license GNU AGPLv3 and is freely available on GitHub. Minds pledges to provide its users with complete anonymity and that they will not be tracked. Users can vote on content and other members using swipe gestures and of course share content, photos or videos. The network also includes full end-to-end encryption and asymmetrically encrypted chat messaging with private passwords. Furthermore, the provider emphasizes that content posted by users will remain in their possession and under their control.

Minds verfolgt einen Crypto-Ansatz (Bild: Minds).

Minds describes itself as “the crypto social network” because it employs a rewards system based on the cryptocurrency Ethereum: Users and members of the developer community receive Minds tokens for their contributions to the network. For example, Minds rewards high-quality content and engagement (swipes, votes, referrals and comments). The received tokens can be spend towards promoting posts with Minds’ own advertising network “Boost.” With the help of the integrated peer-to-peer payment system “Wire,” users can also spend the tokens, stored in a virtual wallet, on paid content or make a donation to their favorite channel.

In addition to a desktop version, Minds is available as an app for Android and iOS. According to Wikipedia, the network had more than 2 million active users in September 2017. You will find more information in its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Other Alternatives to Facebook

There are of course other social networks in addition to the three presented here. Unlike Facebook, these networks refrain from using tracking-supported advertising and work to provide better protection to users’ privacy. Here is an overview of some interesting candidates:

  • Friendica uses the Diaspora protocol and also applies a decentralized approach. Its focus is on effective privacy settings and easy installation of personal servers.
  • Vero, similar to MeWe, views its members as the partners and customers they are and not as products to be sold to advertisers. Its app is currently free of charge, but Vero will probably charge an annual fee in the future.
  • Pondenome is an interesting newcomer that is still in the planning stage. The open source project presented on Indiegogo pledges to provide end-to-end encryptions for its services, thus ensuring that developers and third parties will not be able to access users’ data.

Regardless of which social network you select, please think twice before you post something online. You should also remember: Even if you delete your Facebook account and consciously decide to stop using the services or products offered by Facebook, you are still likely to be monitored by the social network, which tracks nearly 30 percent of global website traffic. Therefore, we recommend using anti-tracking tools such as Ghostery and Cliqz. Both can be downloaded free of charge.