In our continuing series of In Case You Missed It reruns of previous articles, on this Throwback Thursday, we return to August of last year for a piece by the Privacy Advocate on the case for a privacy driven 'twitter'....
There is no doubt that Twitter is a great place for finding and following news, information, trolls and agenda pushing platforms. Some even run entire countries on it (or think they do, hahaha) :) However, Twitter has been caught out supposedly 'accidentally' collecting data and sharing user data with unidentified third parties. Twitter admitted that this occurred with those people using the Twitter app on the iPhone, specifically for those who use more than one account on a single device. The 'bug' worked by collecting user location data when people where signed into more than one Twitter accounts but on the same Apple device and where 'precise location' was activated on only one account.
In a statement posted by Twitter, they stated:
We have fixed this problem and are working hard to make sure it does not happen again. We have also communicated with the people whose accounts were impacted to let them know the bug has been fixed. We invite you to check your privacy settings to make sure you're only sharing the data you want to with us. We're very sorry this happened. We recognize and appreciate the trust you place in us and are committed to earning that trust every day.
Yet this is not the first incident...................
In early 2018, a senior engineer at Twitter stated on camera that
we can actually read your DMs
in reference to part of some staff work they conduct which involves reviewing private DMs. And as if this wasn't bad enough, in early 2019, security researcher Karan Saini announced that Twitter does not routinely delete users' private DMs and that this could have been going on for the whole of the last decade......that's an awful lot of DMs and awful lot of trust to earn back!
Twitter's recent security missteps with the handling of user data are one of many that have occurred in recent years. Facebook has faced multiple issues of a similar nature and which led to them having to appear before various government bodies around the world and explain themselves. As recently as September 2019, Facebook was reportedly still collecting the email contacts of new users without their permission. The company claimed it was unintentional and that the data was purely for operational testing purposes. It doesn't help that their CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself has admitted to giving out user data to third parties in order to benefit his organization.
There is, however, some better news.......
Twitter is not be your only option! There is now a privacy focused decentralized alternative to Twitter called Mastodon. Joining Mastodon involves you first finding a 'pod' or server 'instance' with which to create an account. Once established this will automatically show you everybody else's 'toots' (tweets… geddit?). One such server 'instance', for example, is mastodon.social One major caveat is that somebody can sign up with your handle on another servers so, unlike Twitter, there's no protection (if you want to see it that way).
So what is Mastodon?
Well it's an open-source, community-run micro-blogging website. It lets you post 'toots' and you 'boost' other users' 'toots'. It's mostly like Twitter, but instead of living in one place, this social network lives in a variety of different chunks or 'instances', each with its own rules and admin. These collectively make up a so-called 'federation'. This serves to protect the integrity of the service as there is no single or centralization server. So, if one member of the 'federation' suffers a mishap all the other members are unaffected within their 'semi-permeable silos'.
The federation of toots across servers works well and allows you to follow accounts across the width of the network. That said, to reach another user on another server, you need to address toots in the following format: @email@example.com, which is about as cumbersome but logical as it gets. You will probably also need to identify the right user and as that name may not be unique you can very quickly see how this can become a very messy and frustrating process.
The distributed nature of the network makes it a little bit harder for the 'non-technically minded' (NTMs) within the community to get their heads round, but once you are in and up and running it feels like Twitter. And here's one of the greatest things that I think you'll find: Mastodon users are nice people! The wider federated network has posts in English, Japanese, Spanish amongst other languages and multiple contributions from wider open source enthusiasts. It's way friendlier to LGBTQ+ users and neurodivergent users are out and proud. Furries love it.. More and more amazing artists are tooting their work there and even sex workers, exiled from other social media platforms, are making it their home. Eclectic and egalitarian! Oh and don't worry......there are plenty of cute cat pictures there as well.
Then there's the killer feature......
It is possible to hide sensitive content behind a button before posting. This means people can choose to see your long rant, political commentary or spoiler for an upcoming movie or TV show....or not. The system was created to encourage thoughtful posting as opposed to the purely fatuous or gratuitous. It's also possible to provide descriptions of images you're posting for the visually impaired, something Twitter doesn't provide by default.
But for me, more than anything else, changing from Twitter to Mastodon (and from Facebook to no Facebook which I must confess I have never liked nor had) has given me a new outlook on online living. After years of worrying about keeping up with my tweets and keeping up my image, it's like I've hit a reset button and arrived back in a place where everything is new and I can start from scratch.
All that plus it is decentralized, so no more sharing of locations and DMs with advertisers or other third parties, helps me sleep at night and feel happy at being back using social media again.