Most Facebook users have become so accustomed to working on the “corporate plantation” as "digital sharecroppers" that they lose any interest in controlling their own digital lives and content. It is a welcome development, therefore, to see enterprising souls like Owen Mundy develop a free app that lets people reclaim their data from their Facebook accounts.
Give Me My Data, which is officially in “public-beta” release, is an attempt to give social network users control over their own stuff. You might want to delete your account but retain your accumulated postings, for example. Or you might want to get around the Facebook interface, archive your content or perhaps make artwork from it. The content can be exported into a variety of common formats.
Give Me My Data is not only a useful free software tool (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license), it’s a way of sending a signal to the corporate goliath Facebook that users have some choices and just might decide to go elsewhere. Mundy sees his app as a vehicle for public education: “While clearly utilitarian,” he writes, “this project intervenes into online user experiences, provoking users to take a critical look at their interactions within social networking websites. It suggests data is tangible and challenges users to think about ways in which their information is used for purposes outside of their control by government or corporate entities."
The other commons-based insurgent challenging Facebook is Diaspora, an open-source social network software that is still in development. It started out as four NYU hackers trying to develop a privacy-friendly alternative to Facebook, and has morphed into a major development project now entering its second year. As the collective notes on its website:
Diaspora is not a single site — it’s a collection of different sites, with different URLs, run by different people. But they all run the same software, and they all talk to each other. Each server is called a “pod.” As the service grows, lots of these pods will join the Diaspora network.
The official pod, run by the project’s founders, is http://joindiaspora.com.
All you have to do to get started is choose a home pod! That’s where you’ll go, log in, and see what your friends are up to. Your home can be at joindiaspora.com, or the Diaspora pod your university runs, or the Diaspora pod your friend sets up on her server.
No matter which home you choose, you can be friends with anyone, even if their home is somewhere else. The pods can securely communicate with each other, no matter where they’re located.
Diaspora's tagline is “Share what you want, with whom you want.” Thee idea is to make sure that users can retain ownership of everything that they produce, and to make it easy to set the terms for sharing stuff and protecting one’s privacy. Facebook, by contrast, routinely tries to slip in onerous new terms of service, usually privacy-hostile, and bury opt-out options in hard-to-find places on the website.
Both Diaspora and Give Me My Data may be in their early stages and their actual design and appeal untested by the masses. But one can only hope that they will help mobilize commoners to reclaim what is theirs and burst the corporate bubble that has become Facebook. Hey, it happens. Just look at what happened to MySpace yesterday. Rupert Murdoch, who bought it for $580 milliion in 2005, ending up selling it for a measly $35 million. You can help check the hubris of Facebook and provide some modest measure of accountability by checking out Give Me My Data and Diaspora.