Confidentiality is a major concern nowadays, and new platforms whose niche attraction is total data privacy are starting up. However, this promise alone won't be enough to persuade Internet users to change sites.

Confidence in a Network Depends on More than its Data Management

Many people see privacy protection as a major drawback affecting the major social networks. Against this background, researchers at the University of Colorado have come up with MyZone, a social network prototype whose main feature is guaranteeing the user complete control over how his/her personal information is divulged. MyZone works on the Peer-to-Peer principle, which means that user profile data are not stored on a remote server but directly on the individual’s computer or mobile phone.

P2P functionality

In order to have this information permanently available, even when the user in question isn’t online, s/he will manually choose a number of  "mirror" terminals - contact computers seen as trustworthy - which will host the user’s profile under s/he gets back online. "The concept is interesting and well thought-out. Theoretically it could work," suggests Cédric Deniaud, founder of The Persuaders consultancy and author of the Mé blog. "But I don't think that a non-specialised social network can stake its reputation on this confidentiality promise alone," he adds. Given that users who complain about this kind of problem on sites such as Facebook always go back to using the network, this would seem to be true. Deniaud sees MyZone as a bit like the Diaspora social network, which also tried to make confidentiality a central feature.

Do these fringe social networks have a future?

When they first started up they were a relative failure, since only some hundreds of thousands of users were convinced by the concept. The main problem was the duplication of effort involved. "When you’ve set up a whole network of general contacts, whether on Facebook or now on Google+, you don’t want to have to set up another one elsewhere that is almost identical," explains Cédric Deniaud. Basically the only viable options for ensuring survival, concludes Deniaud, are either to specialise in serving a niche group of users – e.g. with the same physical location, same focus of interest or socio-professional category – or alternatively for the site's owners to sell a stake to, or even be taken over by, Facebook or Google. But there the risk is that they will have to watch as the giant partner grabs some of the site's ingenious functionality and incorporates it into its own services.