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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    New York Times: Four Nerds and a Cry to Arms Against Facebook

    The New York Times reports on an effort to build an alternative to social-networking site Facebook.

    A few months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn’t force people to surrender their privacy to a big business. It would take three or four months to write the code, and they would need a few thousand dollars each to live on.

    They gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000, using an online site, Kickstarter, that helps creative people find support. [...]

    They announced their project on April 24. They reached their $10,000 goal in 12 days, and the money continues to come in: as of Tuesday afternoon, they had raised $23,676 from 739 backers. “Maybe 2 or 3 percent of the money is from people we know,” said Max Salzberg, 22. [...]

    They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. [Raphael] Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. [...]

    The Diaspora* group was inspired to begin their project after hearing a talk by Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, who described the centralized social networks as “spying for free,” Mr. Salzberg said. [...]

    There have been at least two other attempts at decentralized networks, [N.Y.U.'s Finn Brunton] said, but he thought the Diaspora* group had a firmer plan. Its quick success in raising money, he said, showed the discontent over the state of privacy on the social sites. “We will have to see how widely this will be adopted by the non-nerds,” Mr. Brunton said. “But I don’t know a single person in the geek demographic who is not freaked out” by large social networks and cyber warehouses of information.

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