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Diaspora of Facebook critics grows over privacy

The bigger they come, the harder they fall. It’s a cliché but it is a truism that Facebook is currently feeling. Not that the largest social networking site in the world is falling or in danger of collapse, but Facebook staff are locked in internal crisis talks to discuss a growing worldwide backlash against its approach to privacy.

US senators, privacy lobbyists and individuals have been joining what is now a throng, bemoaning the way Facebook has so many open doors when it comes to the personal information of its members. So confusing has Facebook’s privacy policy become that, at 5,830 words, it is now longer than the Constitution of the United States. The New York Times revealed in May that Facebook has 50 different settings and 170 different options.

So, members who post personal updates, photos and videos have been finding their content can appear on the Internet in unexpected places, without their permission. What most members regard as a way to keep in touch with friends and family has become an open window on your private world.

As Facebook grapples with this issue, a rival service is gathering pace. Diaspora was set up by four students from New York University, which they described as “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network”. The service is not yet live but its buzz is driven by its philosophy, which seems to trade directly off the fact that Facebook seems to have lost touch with individuals’ privacy concerns.

On its website, the founders say, “Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy.” The students raised $125,000 from 3,300 donors for their project so they could build it over the summer. They originally set out to raise only $10,000.

Facebook denied that its staff get-together was a crisis meeting but it comes as one of the more popular facts being discussed in the blogosphere is how so many people are searching Google for information about how to delete their Facebook account.

When the dust settles, the main winners should be the individuals who use the Internet – many of whom are young, unsuspecting people who perhaps don’t think about the repercussions of what they publish. The story of 2010 may just be about how the social networks redefine privacy and how it is managed.

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