This week the social media has been alerted to the new kid on the block, the stripped down and “simple, beautiful and ad-free” Ello.
Do you have an invitation to join? If you have, are you missing out on much? I’ve been using it for a few days and the feedback seems to be pretty unified in the “not much going on” field.
The website’s own manifesto is around user privacy and its members not being “owned by advertisers”. It said: “Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.
“We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce, and manipulate — but a place to connect, create, and celebrate life.”
Fair enough, but being a privacy champion doesn’t mean that you are super secure either, as a reported DDoS attack hit it last weekend.
The privacy aspect comes from it using a “special anonymised version of Google Analytics to collect visitor data” which allows users to opt out, and offer “an acceptable level of anonymity and privacy”.
Many social networks have tried and failed to capture some of the market controlled by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. For every success, see Friendster, Google Wave, Yammer and the granddaddy of them all, MySpace.
Now rather than investigate the timeline of social networks, I was more interested in the security and privacy side of the social network. In its original manifesto, Ello said that it does collect some user data related to their visit, which helps it “understand in a general way how people are using Ello, so we can make our social network better”, but as before, users can opt out of this “unlike virtually every other social network”.
This week, Ello announced the introduction of a “big security force field”, and details were scarce on what this was. I talked to Christopher Boyd, malware intelligence analyst at Malwarebytes, who said that the details would have been more successful if it had explained in simple terms what a “big security force field” is and what it does.
He said: “Currently, I’m not sure if it’s referring to an actual security addition. If so, I can’t see any visible changes. If the ‘security force field’ relates to Ello’s attempts at shutting down spam posts, that’s great – but I don’t think spam is the main problem right now; especially as most spam posts are sloppy and easy to spot as something to avoid.”
Boyd’s research on the security and privacy features deemed them to be on the “to-do list”, and he said he could not determine what you are supposed to do if you come across dubious content beyond send somebody an email and see what happens.
He said: “On first use, I found it took me a little while to work out how to reply to another user’s post (don’t laugh), so when private messaging rolls out it will hopefully be very clearly signposted – or else
we may see the Ello outbreak equivalent of ‘Twitter DM fail’.”
I asked him what he felt was the biggest challenge in these early days? He said: “The biggest concern I see at present on Ello is people grabbing brand names with no verification, as that potentially opens the door for phishing and Malware links on the site. There is still no way to report bad content or block users, and that may not be good enough for potential users already struggling with abuse and harassment on other social networks.”
One thing Ello is priding itself on is no adverts as usually, “armies of ad salesmen and data miners track and record every move you make” and “data about you is auctioned off to advertisers and data brokers…under the guise of offering a free service, users of other social networks pay a high price in lack of privacy and intrusive advertising”.
It said that its entire structure is based around a no-ad and no data-mining policy, and is instead asking for user donations. Hey it worked for Wikipedia. “The vast majority of Ello’s features, the ones that all of us use every day, are always going to be free, and we’ll keep improving them. When you choose to pay a small amount of money for a new feature, you help support Ello as an ad-free network and help us make it better and better,” it said.
Boyd said: “From a commercial perspective, it could only ever be a good thing to build a social network from the ground up with security features in place. Basics features such as reporting and controlling who follows would definitely help attract users. The zero-advertising model is an interesting one, but that just makes it more crucial to ensure potential users feel they have a relatively safe platform to post on.”
Time will determine this social network’s standing in the world. Its users will decide whether this fits into the gap of interaction (Twitter), work (LinkedIn) and photo/event sharing (Facebook). I asked Boyd if this could this be the privacy tick?
He said: “I think it’s always good to have another option available, but for now the site is almost too featureless to settle on a unique selling point. Once Ello has the desired privacy and security options in place it could be a great destination for those suffering from advertising fatigue and concerns over data collection.”
I am on it, and so it seems are a gathering of security researchers, because when things are being from the ground up you will want to have security as a key part of it.